One of the most fascinating aspects of the Italian language is that its history is the result of hundreds of dialects, and each dialect has origins which tell a story about the community that speaks it. The Sicilian language and its colorful collection of Sicilian phrases is a shining example of this.
Thanks to the Sicilian School of poets, the Sicilian language was the first literary Italian language. The history of Sicily has resulted in a language with diverse influences that have created a fascinating and intricate linguistic fusion.
Although the Sicilian language isn’t officially recognized, it’s one of Italy’s most valuable pieces of intangible cultural heritage. Giovanni Verga was famous for mixing standard Italian with the dialect, and recently, Andrea Camilleri’s crime novels are famous for being peppered with Sicilian phrases and proverbs. After all, expressions are one of the best ways to gain a deeper understanding of a dialect or regional language. As Verga demonstrated, idiomatic expressions are the way that its speakers pass their wisdom down. We couldn’t agree more with him. Here are 30 Sicilian phrases that we love!
30 Sicilian Phrases Worth Knowing
Acqua davanti e ventu d’arreri
Literally, “water in front and wind behind.” This expression is used for someone who garnered sympathy at first but later turns out to be insufferable. We always hope that person gets lost quickly with the water in front of them (meaning rain) and wind behind them to propel them away more quickly.
Amunì is a unique term from Palermo, but the word is so widespread that it’s worth adding to the list. There’s also the variant amunìnni, which means “let’s go.” It’s a way of telling someone to hurry up, make a decision, etc.
One of the most fascinating features of a few Sicilian phrases is that they’re never 100% translatable. Annacarsi is one of the clearest examples of this, and the funniest part about it is that it can be used to mean opposite things. It can mean “to rush,” or “to stall.” Essentially, it means moving without moving too much. As writer Roberto Alajmo explains, it’s a bit like rocking a baby, making them sway back and forth without moving them an inch.
A tia talìu
This is a popular expression among parents (but it’s not restricted to just people with children). It literally means “I’m watching you,” and it’s a warning. Someone who says it may seem like they’re not controlling what you do, but they’re keeping an eye on you.
This is a common phrase written on signs in Sicilian restaurants around the world. It’s another way of expressing wonder or marvel, similar to how English speakers would say, “Wow!” or “Holy cow!”
Botta ri sali
This expression is used for people who you may not be a huge fan of. Botta ri sali has a bit of a funny story behind it, given that it refers to miners in the salt mines who would bump their heads against the walls while working in extremely narrow conditions.
This is one of the most well-known Sicilian terms outside of Sicily. It means “a pain in the neck” or “annoyance.” Its meaning is clear, but its origins are a bit murky. Some say that it comes from a venereal disease, while others say it comes from the word for woodworm.
Chista è a zita
Sometimes conventional wisdom is hidden in a subtle dose of fatalism. In other words, sometimes fate chooses for you, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. “Chista è a zita, cu ‘a voli sa marita” means “this is the fiance, whoever wants her will marry her.” It’s a popular expression among Sicilian fatalists. In practice it means that sometimes the die is cast, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Cu n’appi, n’appi
The full expression is “Cu n’appi n’appi re Cassatelli ri Pasqua,” and it literally means “Whoever has had it, has had it, from the Easter Cassatelle.” Cassatelle is a traditional Easter dessert. The expression is a way of saying that once something has been split up, you can’t go back to the way it was before.
E cu è, Totò Termini?
Salvatore Termini, sometimes known as Totò Termini, is a legend in Sicilian culture. It’s a name that’s brought up to refer to something specific that doesn’t make sense to anyone who isn’t Sicilian. If, when you refer to someone, you say “Who’s Totò Termini,” it means that that person feels very self-important for reasons that are unbeknownst to the rest of us. If you say “Totò Termini rode in on a horse,” it means that someone is butting into the conversation who has no business doing so. And so on.
E cu parla ‘u paraqquaru
“E chi parla, l’ombrellaio?” essentially means that you can’t hear whoever is speaking.
“Focu ‘ranni” (literally meaning “big fire”) is a Sicilian turn of phrase that’s used throughout the entire region. The expression is used to describe a really complicated situation that’s difficult to sort out, similar to how an English speaker would say they’re in a pickle.
Gira vòta e furrìa
This expression means “to wander around aimlessly,” and it’s used when someone is in a situation where someone is back to square one after wandering for a long time.
Lassari in tririci
Like we mentioned earlier, a few Sicilian phrases encapsulate Sicilian culture in just a few words. “Lassari in tririci” (literally meaning “to leave someone in thirteen”) is a great example of this. Referring to Jesus and the 12 Apostles at the Last Supper, a table of 13 people is considered to be bad luck. If someone stands someone up at the last minute, leaving them in a lurch, they’re being unfair to that person. If someone “lassari in tririci” to someone else, they’re saying that they left the other person in a lurch.
Mastru Cola, cu ‘na furma
Mastro Cola was a shoemaker who had only one way to make his own slippers. This expression is used for someone who marches to the beat of their own drum without worrying about other peoples’ opinions.
This expression is one of the most inexplicable Sicilian expressions. Like annacarsi, muoviti drruocu is a paradox that means “move, but stop.” What do we have to do when someone tells us to “muoverci ddruocu?” Stay still. Makes sense, right?
Non ni manciu chiacchiri!
Literally translated, this means “I don’t eat gossip.” While chiacchiere is a type of fried dessert that’s traditionally eaten around the time of Carnivale, it’s also the term for gossip. It means empty promises. “I don’t buy your empty promises; you won’t convince me to do something I don’t want to.” Convincing a Sicilian can be a very tall order.
N’un miriri e sbiriri
While there’s no literal translation, this expression means “in a bit.”
Orva di l’occhi!
This expression is a great one to use if you think someone is telling a lie.
One of the most fun Sicilian expressions is “Parlari tischi-toschi.” Its origins come from the word for the Tuscan dialect of Italian, which laid the groundwork for what we now know as the Italian language. If you speak “tischi-toschi,” you’re speaking in a pretentious manner or putting on airs, or Tuscan. Generally, someone who does “tischi-toschi” puts on airs.
No, you’re not at Nando’s! In Sicily, peri peri means “wander around.”
Risu susiti tisu
This is another Sicilian expression that loses most of its meaning when literally translated. Regardless, it means, “Once you’ve eaten rice, you get up from the table right away.” This means that rice doesn’t weigh you down, and it’s preferable to eat rice if you want to eat a light meal (keep in mind: eating five fried rice balls doesn’t give you carte blanche to use this proverb once you’ve gotten up from the table!).
This is a solemn greeting used when you say hello to someone and when you say goodbye. It’s used by elderly people, and it means something to the effect of “May God bless you.” Obviously, depending on the area of Sicily that you’re in, there are variants, but the meaning is always the same.
Sbrizzia is an intense rain or extreme weather that’s not very common but deserves a specific expression. If the rain comes down harder, as if it’s stinging your skin, its called pizzichiddia.
Sciatiri e matri!
When Sicilians are shocked, they use this rather curious expression. There are plenty of theories surrounding the literal meaning of this expression: for some it means “Mother and Savior,” while others say it comes from the Arabic expression that still exists in the Maltese language. There are other legends surrounding this proverb, but what’s most interesting about it is that it has plenty of variants, and each of them has a different interpretation. This is one of the most controversial and hotly debated expressions.
Cacocciula means “artichoke,” and this expression means “to peacock” or something to that effect, because an artichoke tends to stand out among other vegetables. But cacocciula is often used by Sicilians to refer to someone with a lot of hair, for example.
Spacca e lassa
Someone who “spacca e lassa” is a braggart who talks a big game but can’t back up their claims. If someone brags about having done everything but runs in the other direction when they’re asked to prove it, this person is someone who “spacca e lassa.”
Stari a ranucchiuni
A ranucchiuni means “a small group of people.”
Unn’è santu chi sura
“A saint doesn’t sweat.” When Sicilians use this expression, it means that the person they’re referring to (the not-sweaty saint) won’t get anything. It’s like getting blood from a stone because statues of saints don’t sweat.
Last but not least on our list of Sicilian phrases we love: “Va eccati.” Literally, it means “go throw yourself [in the sea.]” In other words, it means “I don’t want to see you.” If you’d like to learn more about how to insult someone or know when you’re being insulted, check out our more complete list of Italian insults.
Bonus: Di pirsona pirsonalmente
Ok, there’s only one person (who is purely fictional) who uses this expression, but how could we not include Agent Catarella’s particular way of speaking?
This article was originally published on the Italian edition of Babbel Magazine.