Italian Word of The Day Supported by: Fluente logo For Members

Italian expression of the day: ‘A occhio e croce’

Giampietro Vianello
Giampietro Vianello - [email protected]
Italian expression of the day: ‘A occhio e croce’
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

It’ll take you roughly five minutes to master this Italian phrase.


Italians aren’t exactly sticklers for precision. 

In fact, it could be argued that most have a natural (and exceedingly irritating) inclination to be as vague as they possibly can when expressing times, sizes and other types of measurement. 

That’s a big part of the reason why the expression a occhio e croce is so popular in ordinary, day-to-day Italian.

A occhio e croce, which is literally translatable as ‘by eye and cross’, is essentially used to refer to any calculation or judgement the speaker is unsure of. Its most immediate English equivalents are: approximately, roughly, more or less and give or take. 

Quante persone c’erano alla festa ieri?

Mah, 30 persone, a occhio e croce.

How many people were at the party yesterday?

Hmm, 30 people, give or take.


Quanto è distante casa tua da qui?

Credo due chilometri, a occhio e croce.

How far is your place from here?

Roughly two kilometres, I think.


As shown by the above examples, a occhio e croce generally follows the object the speaker is unsure of, though it can sometimes be used at the start of a sentence:

Quanta corda ti serve per la barca?

A occhio e croce, direi tre metri.

How much rope do you need for your boat?

At a rough guess, I’d say three metres.

In these cases, the expression is best translated as ‘at a guess’.

It’s also worth pointing out that some ‘lazy’ native speakers might sometimes remove the preposition a and only say occhio e croce. In such situations, the meaning remains the same.


Now that you more or less know how to use the expression, you might be wondering where it comes from. 

The phrase is largely thought to have originated within Florence’s Silk Guild in the Late Middle Ages.  

There, whenever one or more threads would come unthreaded, workers would have to rethread them a occhio, meaning by sight, and a croce, that is by following a rough cross pattern. Hence the expression a occhio e croce.

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


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

David 2024/04/19 09:34
Pazienza - its use as an interjection and possible translations

See Also