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Italian word of the day: ‘Pennichella’

Here's a word you might need after lunch on a long, hot Italian summer afternoon.

Italian word of the day: 'Pennichella'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

If you’ve spent any time in Italy, no doubt you’ll have noticed that shutters are closed and streets are empty at mid-afternoon in many towns and villages – particularly on weekends, during the middle of summer, and in the scorching south of the country.

This is because, as we all know, enjoying a ‘proper’ lunch is of paramount importance in Italy – and so is having a rest afterwards.

One thing you might not realise though is just how many different terms exist in Italian for this afternoon nap.

These words will never come in more useful than in mid-August – particularly if your Italian family members, like mine, insist on eating platefuls of heavy lasagna or pasta al forno (any type of pasta dish baked in the oven) for lunch despite the searing outdoor temperatures.

When the abbiocco sets in and your eyelids start to droop involuntarily after lunch, one common term for this type of afternoon snooze is ‘pennica’. A little snooze, then, is a pennichèlla (‘penny-kel-lah’. Hear it pronounced here.).

– fare una pennichèlla

– to have a snooze

The Treccani dictionary notes that the word is derived from the Latin pendiculare and implies hanging or swaying, in reference to the way your head might drop to one side or the other when you fall asleep sitting in a chair.

If you go off to bed to lie down, possibly even putting your pyjamas on, you’re committing more to the nap; so you might call that un riposo (a rest) or riposino (a little rest) instead.

You could also use pisolino (a word of Tuscan origin, meaning ‘nap’) or sonnellino (a ‘little sleep’).

– vado a fare un pisolino

– I’m going for a nap

The Spanish word ‘siesta’ also works in any case – plus there are countless other terms for napping used in local dialects across Italy.

And of course, some of us may still be getting used to the idea of sleeping at midday after growing up in cultures where such a habit would be viewed as rather lazy or indulgent.

But be assured that, in Italy, napping is not only acceptable but often seen as beneficial and even essential for health, mood and productivity in the hot summer months.

However, as Italians might warn you: non devi esagerare (don’t go overboard). Ideally your pisolino shouldn’t last more than 30 minutes, the Italian version of Cosmopolitan magazine explains, while newspaper La Repubblica advises to keep naptime to 20 minutes or less.

Do you have a favourite Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

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Italian word of the day: ‘Tirocinio’

Let us offer you some (unpaid) experience with this Italian word.

Italian word of the day: 'Tirocinio'

If you’re entering the world of work in Italy, there’s a good chance that at some point you’ll be offered a tirocinio (pronunciation available here). Should you accept?

That all depends on whether you think you’ll get enough benefit (and money – in the unlikely event there is any) out of an internship, which is what this slightly odd-sounding word means.

According to the Accademia della Crusca, Italy’s oldest linguistic academy and the guardians of the Italian language, it comes from the Latin word tirocinium, which has two components.

The first part of the word comes from tirone, the name for a recruit to the Roman military (tirare means – among others things – ‘to shoot’ in Italian).

The second, cinium, comes from canere, meaning ‘to sound’ (a horn) or ‘to play’ (music); a tubicinium was a horn or trumpet player.

Joined together, the two words meant something like ‘a rousing of the recruits’, in the sense of an initiation or learning experience. An intern is a tirocinante.

Tirocinio isn’t the only Italian word for internship: you’ll also hear people talk about a stage (pronounced the French way, like this, as it’s borrowed from French); an intern is a stagista.

That’s the title given to Alessandro, one of the main characters in the Italian comedy series Boris, who starts an internship on the set of the medical soap opera Eyes of the Heart 2 and is soon initiated into the bizarre and dysfunctional world of Roman TV production.

Ho dovuto lavorare presso la mia azienda per sei mesi come stagista prima che mi offrissero un lavoro.
I had to work at my company for six months as an intern before they offered me a job.

Domani inizierò il mio tirocinio – auguratemi buona fortuna!
I start my internship tomorrow – wish me luck!

If you do end up working as a tirocinante or stagista, hopefully it will be less surreal and better remunerated than that of Boris’s protagonist.

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.