Italian Word of the Day: Vaccino (vaccine)

The word on everyone’s lips these days is vaccine, which in Italian translates as vaccino (masculine, plural: vaccini).


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Both the Italian and English terms derive from the Latin vacca (meaning cow) and the adjective vaccinus (meaning of a cow).

But what do cows have to do with vaccines, you might ask?

Well, believe it or not, the story has its roots in the deadly smallpox virus. In 1796, the father of immunology Edward Jenner discovered that an infection with the cowpox virus, which was relatively mild in humans, conferred immunity against smallpox. The term Jenner used to denote cowpox in his article detailing the discovery was Variolae vaccinae (lit: smallpox of the cow).

Nearly 100 years later, renowned scientist Louis Pasteur appropriated the term vaccine, extending its meaning beyond cows and the cowpox virus to all inoculations.

Note: In Italian, vaccino can also function as an adjective that means of the cow. For example, cow’s milk translates as latte vaccino whereas carne vaccina is the word for beef.

asian doctor preparing vaccine
Abbiamo finalmente un vaccino contro il virus. – We finally have a vaccine against the virus.

Here are a few different kinds of vaccines:

  • vaccino antinfluenzale / contro l’influenza = flu vaccine
  • vaccino antimorbillo = measles vaccine
  • vaccino antirosolia = rubella vaccine
  • vaccino antipolio = polio vaccine
  • vaccino di richiamo = booster injection (richiamo means recall in this case)

I miei genitori hanno fatto il vaccino la settimana scorsa.

My parents got the vaccine last week.

Related to vaccino are the noun vaccinazione (vaccination) and the verbs vaccinare and vaccinarsi. The former quite literally means to vaccinate whereas the reflexive form means to get vaccinated. They are synonyms of fare/farsi il vaccino.

Figuratively speaking, vaccinarsi can also mean to be hardened against something or to toughen oneself up.

Essere vaccinato (lit: to be vaccinated) is another way of saying that someone is grown up or experienced. It appears in the common expression essere adulto (or grande) e vaccinato which is used, often in an ironic sense, to describe an adult who can or should be able to make their own choices and face the inevitable difficulties of life.

Ormai è adulto e vaccinato. Deve trovare la sua strada.

He’s a big boy now. He must find his own path.

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