06.11.20

Tommaso, Riccardo, e Araldo

Posted in Random thoughts at 9:55 pm by ducky

I recently discovered that Italian has something similar to but not identical to the English “Tom, Dick, and Harry”: “Tizio, Caio and Sempronio”.

While in English, “Tom, Dick, and Harry” means “everyone” (and “Tom, Dick, or Harry” means anyone), “Tizio”, “Caio” and “Sempronio” are placeholders for actual humans whose identities are not important.  (In computer science terms, they are aliases.)

You might use them like this:

We had real trouble in our Zoom class last night.  First, Tizio couldn’t find the link for the video.  Then when we were all trying to watch the video, Caio’s dog started barking and Caio couldn’t figure out how to mute. Finally, once we got into a breakout room, Sempronio couldn’t figure out how to unmute herself!

In English, the first thing I could think of was “Alice” and “Bob” (which are canonical names in the computer security field for two people trying to pass a message securely), but those are people with specific roles, not aliases for some person who is very specific in the story you’re telling.  Similarly, “Karen” has the role of being an entitled jerk, while “Chad” has the role of getting all the chicks. 

While I am not familiar with the usage, apparently “Bubba” is used sort of like “John, Dick, or Harry” in some cases.

“John Doe” is used in a somewhat similar manner to Tizio, Caio and Sempronio, but that name is is used to deliberately obscure someone’s identity, or when the identity is unknown.  Tizio, Caio and Sempronio, on the other hand, are used when it doesn’t matter.  (I don’t remember which of my classmates had trouble with her mute button, but it doesn’t matter to the story.)

The Wikipedia page on Tizio, Caio, e Sempronio (in Italian) says that there are analogues in other languages, including “Pierre, Paul ou Jacques” in French, “Hinz und Kunz” in German, and “Andersson, Pettersson och Lundström” in Swedish.  (The page also mentions “Tom, Dick, and Harry”, so the exact details of how these names are used clearly varies by language.)

Tizio, Caio and Sempronio were real figures in Roman history, and the use of their names in this way is veerrrrry old, first showing up in legal writings in ~1000AD.

Language is so interesting!

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