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ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian expression of the day: ‘Avere la coda di paglia’

No need to get all fired up about this Italian expression.

Italian expression of the day: 'Avere la coda di paglia'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Are you quick to react? To get defensive in a conversation before any criticism has come your way?

If you’re having a tough day, it’s easy to snap back. It likely won’t help, then, that the person you’re speaking to may accuse you of having la coda di paglia (Av-ER-eh Lah CO-DAH dee PAL-YAH) if you do.

Which is sure to wind you up even further.

It literally means ‘having a tail of straw’, which as you can guess, is quick to ignite and set on fire.

Eh ma io non ti ho mai sparlato alle spalle. Quindi non capisco perché lo stai dicendo a me

But I’ve never talked behind your back. So I don’t understand why you’re saying this to me

No, be’, stavo facendo una considerazione generale. Non è che stavo parlando di te. Cos’è, hai la coda di paglia?

No, well, I was making a general remark. It’s not that I was talking about you. Why so touchy?

via GIPHY

You have a straw tail, then, if you feel obliged to justify yourself, even if nobody is accusing you of anything.

One said source of the expression comes from an Aesop fable about a fox whose tail was cut off by a trap.

The fox was ashamed of its newfound lack of elegance and so its animal friends decided to make it a convincingly real-looking straw tail.

But one day a cockerel let the secret slip and news of the fox with the straw tail reached the farmers.

Knowing the fox’s weak spot, they lit fires near the hen houses so that he could no longer steal their chickens. The fox knew that straw catches fire easily, and for fear of getting burned, he never went near the hen houses again.

Hence ‘having a straw tail’ means fearing any kind of criticism for a behaviour, or a defect.

Depending on the context, the expression is also used with the meaning of not having a clear conscience and always being suspicious of everything.

You know you’re at fault, so you’re shady and quick to defend.

A Tuscan proverb says, “Chi ha la coda di paglia ha sempre paura che gli pigli fuoco” (He who has a straw tail is always afraid that it will catch fire).

Accidenti, questa mattina mi hanno rubato il portafoglio!

Damn! This morning my wallet got stolen!

Io non sono stato, ero a casa mia questa mattina!

I didn’t do it, I was at home this morning!

Why would the initial reaction be to defend if you’re innocent?

Abbiamo un po’ la coda di paglia, no?

Does someone have a guilty conscience there? Or – overcompensating a bit, are we?

Certo, tranquillo, non ho detto questo. Però dentro di me penso che tu abbia la coda di paglia, perché io non ti ho accusato.

Sure, don’t worry, I didn’t say that. But inside me I think you have a straw tail (a guilty conscience), because I didn’t accuse you.

The phrase suggests an over-the-top or guilty reaction to something that was never a criticism or accusation.

Chi è stato a rompere il bicchiere?

Who broke the glass?

Io no, non c’ero, e se c’ero, non ho visto niente!

I wasn’t there, and if I was, I didn’t see anything!

Ah allora hai la coda di paglia!

Ah, someone’s being defensive!

Even if the person with a ‘straw tail’ didn’t actually do anything wrong, they could be regarded as oversensitive or prickly if they react in this way.

So the next time someone is pushing your buttons, keep your cool and don’t set fire to that straw tail.

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

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.

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