My favourite words in Sicilian

Even though my family is originally from Sicily, I don’t really speak the Sicilian dialect. As a kid of first generation immigrants I can understand it though. Here are 5 of my absolutely favourite words from Sicily:

Cammurria – double letters in Italian matter but in Sicilian they matter even more so the best way to pronounce this word is to imagine it has at least 3 m and 5 r. Very strong. A cammurria is a nuisance and a really big one. Mosquitos are a cammurria, taxes, overall bureaucracy, men can be a cammurria and women too. Something you have to deal with and you’d just prefer for the love of God that it would just disappear from earth so you could continue with your afternoon nap, your coffee or minding your business.

Taliare – this is simply the verb ‘to see’ and ‘to look’ too. However the look you get in Sicily isn’t just a look, it’s like a scan, an ultrasound, it’s reading your emotions, intentions, possible future actions, what you are thinking but you can’t say, and what you don’t want to say. In Sicily most of the communication happen between the lines, it’s a bit like Japan or China to the rest world. Communication isn’t direct, so it’s important to look. After living in London for 15 years I get quite upset at receiving the Sicilian ‘taliata’. This is when I could appropriately use the most well known Italian hand gesture of all time (hand gestures are popular everywhere in Italy but the legend says Southerns are the real kings of them!). You can watch this video to discover the move at 00:22:

Ammugghiare – this is an amazing word which means several things, in its essence it means to fold away, for example after lunch you fold the table cloth to put it away. It also means though that you can ammugghiare something, you can just take something and slowly and silently just take it away from attention and simply it’s not a big deal anymore. The how here matters, you do it in a way that others almost don’t even notice you are doing it. It’s a subtle action and it needs real Sicilian craft. I chose this word because in my view and hope this is what’s going to happen with Brexit. I’m willing to do a demonstration for Theresa May. Easy.

Futtitinni – this is a staple of Sicilian culture, I rarely use it (because I’m from Milan, mon dieu!) and it basically mean ‘don’t worry about it’, ‘leave and let live’ ‘don’t stress about unimportant stuff’. Some articles online compare it to The Lion King ‘Hakuna matata’ which is sweet but in futtitinni imo there is an implicit sense of ‘care only about what matters to you’ and a bit of disregard of other people’s needs which isn’t implicit in Hakuna Matata but I might be wrong.

Valia – this means ‘willingness’ and also ‘strength’, for example when it’s 2pm in the summer and there are 35 degrees you don’t have valia to go out of the house. Essentially this is linked to the idea that if you need to do something you do it but if you can avoid it then great to avoid it. Better to keep the valia for just the important stuff or what is that you really want to do and not maybe what others want you to do.

In addition it’s worth mentioning how Sicilians say ‘no’. This is very Godfather-like and internationally known. It’s a small almost imperceptible tilt back of the head while saying ‘ntzu’. I found this video where it’s compared to how you say yes in Sweden:

It’s important to decode when someone is telling you no. If you ask something to a Sicilian chances are that between yes or no they are going to say no, even just as a conversation starter. So they have time to taliare more deeply your intention, ponder if they have the valia, assess if at the end of the day you are going to be a cammurria and advise you to just futtitini in the first place and ammugghiare the whole thing.

Photo credit: ‘Pistacchio e mandorla granita con brioche’ at Cafe’ Novecento in Marina di Avola by me.


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