How to REFER to an INDETERMINATE PERSON in Italian

In this lesson, we will discover together exactly what the Italian versions are for referring to any hypothetical, unspecified person, taken as an example in a speech. Stay there to learn how to make conversation in a natural way, like native speakers!

How to refer to a Hypothetical Person in Italian

Let’s look at all the variants!

1. TIZIO/A

You’ve probably already heard or read this word in a film, a conversation or a book.

It is a name that has two functions:

  • to indicate any person, indefinite and hypothetical, not real, taken as an example. It can be used either as a proper name with a capital letter or as a common name with a small letter.

Examples:

Se io racconto un mio segreto a Tizio, mi aspetto che Tizio lo tenga per sé e non lo vada a spifferare in giro, soprattutto se tra noi c’è del rispetto! (If I tell a secret of mine to Tizio, I expect Tizio to keep it to himself and not go blabbing it around, especially if there is respect between us!)

Non accetto che un tizio qualsiasi debba giudicare il mio lavoro! (I don’t accept that a random tizio should judge my work!)

  • to indicate a real, specific person about whom one cannot or doesn’t want to give more information, either because one doesn’t know him or because one wants to keep his identity hidden.

Examples:

C’è un tizio al telefono che vuole parlare con te. (There’s a tizio on the phone who wants to talk to you.)

Chiedi a questa tizia se vuole far parte della nostra squadra! (Ask this tizia if she wants to be part of our team!)

2. TIZIO, CAIO E SEMPRONIO

The name «Tizio» is also found in the expression «Tizio, Caio e Sempronio». This expression always remains so, unchanged and it’s plural: in fact it refers to hypothetical, not real, persons taken as examples. You will find it very often in general speeches, when you want to give clear and practical examples but without talking about real people.

Examples:

Io ho la mia idea e non la cambio: non mi interessa ciò che pensano Tizio, Caio e Sempronio. (I have my own idea and I don’t change it: I don’t care what Tizio, Caio and Sempronio think.) -> it means that I am not interested in the opinions of others

Mah, guarda… A voler essere sinceri… Se Tizio presta un libro a Caio e Caio poi lo regala a Sempronio, Tizio fa bene ad arrabbiarsi! Almeno io la penso così. (Well… To be honest… If Tizio lends a book to Caio and Caio then gives it to Sempronio, Tito is right to get angry! At least I think so.)

But what is the origin of this expression? Why these three names? To answer these questions, we’ve to go back a long way, to Ancient Rome. Here, «Titus et Gaius et Sempronius» were the names used by jurists when they had to give practical examples in their speeches.

And the choice wasn’t random! In fact, they were three very common names at the time. A bit like Maria or Francesco today, here in Italy.

Not only that! It’s thought that they were also chosen because they were the names of three very important politicians of the time:

  • Tizio comes from Tiberio Gracco
  • Caio comes from his brother, Gaio Gracco
  • Sempronio comes from their father, Sempronio Gracco

Annagrazia: Aaaah gli antenati di Carlo Cracco! ( Aaaah the ancestors of Carlo Cracco!)

Never mind…

Instead, let us move on to the next «hypothetical» expression:

3. PINCO PALLINO

Also «Pinco Pallino» is an invented name for any person taken as an example, in a context where it isn’t necessary to make direct references to specific persons.

The tone of this expression is generally derogatory or ironic. It can be used with both upper and lower case letters.

Examples:

Ma scusami… Stai facendo il lavoro al posto del tuo collega? Ma sei pazzo? Ti fai mettere i piedi in testa da un pinco pallino qualsiasi? No, tu da domani gli dici che tu devi fare il tuo lavoro e lui il suo! Stiamo scherzando?! Che poi, chi è lui? (Excuse me, are you doing the job for your colleague? Are you crazy? Do you let some pinco pallino walk all over you? No, from tomorrow you tell him you have to do your job and he has to do his! Are you kidding? Who is he anyway?)

Come non sai su che cosa scrivere il tuo prossimo articolo? Ma no, non preoccuparti! Prendi un Pinco Pallino e racconta la sua storia! Tutto qua… (How don’t you know what to write your next article about? But no, don’t worry! Take a Pinco Pallino and tell his story! That’s all…)

Pinco Pallino… Why this form? Where does this expression come from?

It most likely comes from the word «Pinco», from the Tuscan dialect. And only later was this reinforced by the addition of «Pallino».

«Pinco», in the old Tuscan dialect, indicated a man’s member. Hence, used in reference to a person, the word took on the meaning of «stupid, naive, low intelligence person».

This is no coincidence, if we think that there are still today many insults with references to the man’s member (coglione-asshole and cazzone-dickhead to name a few).

4. TAL DEI TALI

Saying «un tale» is like saying «un tizio».

«Tal dei Tali», however, doesn’t indicate just any person taken as an example! Rather, it indicates a particular person, but not specified.

It’s mainly found in short stories, when one wants to refer to an unknown character (about whom one knows nothing or wants to say nothing), whose identity isn’t important for the purposes of the story.

Example:

Per uno stupido parcheggio, mi stava minacciando! Stava minacciando me e la mia famiglia! E non la smetteva! Poi, non appena io ho detto che sarei andata dall’avvocato Tal dei Tali e avrei sporto denuncia, immediatamente ha abbassato la testa, si è rimesso in macchina e se n’è andato… In questa società bisogna sempre essere aggressivi! (For a stupid parking space, he was threatening me! He was threatening me and my family! And he wouldn’t stop! Then, as soon as I said I was going to go to a lawyer Tal dei Tali and make a complaint, he immediately lowered his head, got back in his car and drove off… In this society you always have to be aggressive!)

5. SIGNOR NESSUNO

And who is «signor Nessuno»?

Generally, the expression «signor Nessuno» indicates a particular person, but an anonymous one, whose characteristics aren’t specified. «Signor Nessuno» is used in a sense of contempt, to emphasise that the person is insignificant and has no qualities or merit.

Example:

A: Ma hai visto chi è l’amministratore delegato di questa società? È proprio lui! Io ci andavo a scuola insieme! Era un Signor Nessuno che non parlava, non socializzava, studiava anche poco. Eppure, guarda dove lo ha portato la vita! Aspetta… Com’era il suo nome? (But have you seen who the CEO of this company is? That’s him! I went to school with him! He was a Signor Nessuno who didn’t speak, didn’t socialize, studied very little. And yet, look where life took him! Wait… what was his name?)

G: Eh… Vattelappesca!

A: Come, scusa? Qui non diciamo parolacce! (A: Excuse me? We don’t use bad words here!)

G: Ma no! «Vattelappesca» non è affatto una parolaccia! Certo, è un’espressione colloquiale e informale, ma totalmente innocente! Significa «chi lo sa», «boh», «vallo a sapere». (No, «Vattelappesca» is not a bad word at all! Sure, it’s a colloquial and informal expression, but totally innocent! It means «who knows».)

Well, as we’re pretty sure that these hypothetical forms exist in every language, we are waiting for many comments from all over the world in which you tell us how to say, in your language, «Pinco Pallino» or «Tizio Caio e Sempronio»!

Thank you for reading this article and don’t forget to discover all the alternatives for expressing «ESSERE VAGHI»in Italian.

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