Sicilian and Messina idioms

The dialectal expressions are numerous and it is good to know some of them, whether you are in Messina for a holiday or for work.

Messina idioms and Sicilian roots

A tourist who wants to visit Messina will certainly be welcomed by the typical Sicilian warmth and will be struck by the inevitable cultural differences and by the colorful Sicilian and Messina idioms in particular. The Messina accent is less marked than the Palermo one, but it is just as catchy, albeit softer.

Beyond the typical cadence of Messina, there is another strong characterizing element: the use of the dialect and typical Messina expressions. Dialectal words and expressions are widely used by a large number of people, regardless of their profession, class and standard of living.

The dialect and idioms of Messina are a way in which people remain anchored to their Sicilian origins. Some of these expressions are really interesting and worth sharing and explaining.

Sicilian and Messina proverbs

Sicilian idioms often have ancient origins, sometimes dating back to times when the trinacria was often invaded by foreign populations and, therefore, they have a sort of cosmic pessimism that sometimes makes you smile , others reflect.

“ In Missina, sciroccu, piscistoccu and malanova never fail ”

Translation: In Messina, the wind, sword fish and bad luck never fail.
Comment: An expression that makes fun of the fact that bad luck is a “typical product” of Messina, as inevitable as the wind and the rapier fish. We could define this proverb as a sort of Murphy’s Law ante litteram . Murphy’s law says: if anything can go wrong, it will .

“Cu nasci tunnu non pò moriri quadratu” 

Translation: He who is born round cannot die square.
Meaning: People never change.
Comment: From this Sicilian way of saying we can deduce a marked pessimism, according to which there is no hope of redemption on anyone’s part. It is also easy to think back to the typical writers of Sicilian verismo, such as Giovanni Verga. The entire novel I Malavoglia is the exasperation of the concept contained in this saying: despite all the good will, the family protagonist of the book will never be able to get out of its original condition of poverty and hardship.

“Cuntari quantu u dui i coppi quannu a briscola è a spadi.”

Translation: Worth as much as the two of cups, when the trump is swords Meaning: Not worth anything.
Comment: In this nice way of saying we refer to the well-known popular card game, the briscola . In this game, which is still very popular today, the two is the least valuable card of all. The Sicilian way of saying is keen to clarify that it is not the two of the trump suit, which would instead have a certain value, but any two , completely useless.

Cu li amici e cu li parienti un ci accattari e vinniri nenti

Translation: With friends and relatives you don’t have to buy or sell anything.
Comment: This proverb is a warning not to have any business or professional relationship with people you are particularly close to, such as friends or relatives. The risk, in fact, is that something goes wrong and that the consequences end up ruining the original relationship of affection. On closer inspection, despite the pessimistic nature, this suggestion has a positive intent : we want to protect personal relationships, more important than business.

L’aceddu ‘nta jaggia o canta pi invidia o canta pi raggia

Translation: The caged bird sings out of envy or anger
Comment: This Messina proverb makes a beautiful comparison with the animal world to indicate that a person who speaks ill of someone basically does it out of envy and dissatisfaction. A bird confined in a cage “sings” (hence “speaks”) out of joy, but out of frustration. Similarly, gossip is often an indication of a nuisance that has nothing to do with the person being gossiped about. An all in all funny proverb that manages to minimize the bad rumors directed towards oneself or others.

Sicilian and Messina idioms

Fici cchiù dannu du cincu i frivaru

Translation: It did more damage than the fifth of February.
Comment: The reference in this case is to the earthquake of 5 February 1783, a disaster that razed Messina to the ground. This expression uses the rhetorical figure of hyperbole to indicate that a person has made a lot of trouble or created serious problems. Etna makes Sicily a high risk seismic zone and Messina is no exception. Note how, over time, it is possible to exorcise a real catastrophe by using it as a pleasant way of saying.

“U sceccu nto linzolu”

Translation: the donkey under the sheet.
Comment: This typical Sicilian and Messina expression presents an original painting: a donkey, covered by a sheet. Clearly, although it is covered by a sheet, it is immediately clear what lies beneath the sheet. This expression is addressed to those who play dumb by simulating improbable naivety. Just like a person who, in front of a donkey covered by a sheet, wonders what is hidden underneath.

“Essiri cchiù assai di cani ‘i Brasi”

Translation: To be more than Biagio’s dogs.
Comment: It is an expression that indicates a large number of people. The anecdote that probably lies behind this very original way of saying from Messina concerns a funny misunderstanding. Apparently in the seventeenth century a Spanish viceroy ( Blas , Italianized in Biagio), sent a letter to his brother in Spain, asking him for ” 2 or 3 hunting dogs “. Unfortunately, said brother confused the ” o ” of “2 or 3” for a zero , and therefore landed in Messina not two, not three, but 203 hunting dogs.

A special word

The typical expressions and idioms of Sicily and Messina are innumerable and we could list a great many, known and less known. However we prefer to close this article by indicating a word that is used very frequently in Messina, even when speaking in Italian. Often we don’t even realize that we are “trespassing” on the dictionary to settle down on the typical dialectal expressions, especially when it is a single word. This word is not exactly untranslatable, but it has its own characteristic nuance. No Messinese, in this specific case, could ever really be satisfied with a simple translation.

The word in question is CAMURRIA .

The accent falls on the I and means annoyance, annoyance. However, it is a very intense nuisance, a long-lasting nuisance, repeated and, every time, very unpleasant . All this cannot be rendered by a single word of the Italian language, many would be needed and in any case something would still be missing .

Imagine an endless and very tedious bureaucratic procedure for which one is bounced from one office to another, making one queue after another and then discovering after several hours, like in a Kafkaesque nightmare, that one has to start over.

Here you are. That’s a camurria.

© 2023 • Le Stanze di Carlo Labruto • Vicolo Giovanni Fiumara, 10 98166 Messina - Italy - P.I.: 03688320831
Website creato e gestito da D-Tekweb