This week’s Sicilian saying is the quintessential mixture of astute observation, wisdom and crudeness. Symbolic of the Sicilian erudite, down to earth no-nonsense approach to life. And I love it.
So the saying says: Lu minchiuni ‘un si conusci quannu nasci; si conusci quannu cresci.
To break it down a little, my literal translation is: A fool is not recognised when he’s born; he’s recognised when he grows.
The world minchiuni isn’t as polite as the word ‘fool’; it derives from one of the most famous Sicilian swear words and is seen as typically a Sicilian type of slang. Islanders love using this word to express their general surprise, frustration or exorcise their pain whenever they get hit in the balls or struck by a hammer in the thumb.
Inspector Montalbano uses this word often in the most popular t.v crime series filmed in Sicily, penned by Andrea Camilleri. There is even a popular craft beer that has named itself after this typical Sicilian cuss word.
I’m sure you must know the word ‘minchia’; if not, you should probably learn it, as you’ll hear it is thrown around a fair bit on the island. It’s the Sicilian word for penis or cock and corresponds to the English equivalent of oh fuck.
A minchiuni is somewhat of a dick head, an absolute asshole, or similar variations of the same concept. I’m sure you can think of many different English phrases we use to describe someone who is a bit of an idiot.
The widely used Italian variation of minchione (literally a big minchia) is used to refer to somebody who is truly dense, dumb and clueless.
So this saying highlights the fact how people are not born idiots; instead, they grow into them. As a parent, I think it’s a vital life lesson to know and be careful that your perfect newborn babe doesn’t slowly become an asshole and ruin the lives of those around him and his own.
Once again, a Sicilian saying reminds us to be down to earth, honest, genuine and free of airs or vanities. And it’s endearing to hear it said with such wit and humour. Unfortunately, those who need to understand this critical piece of advice are often too much of a minchiuni to heed it.
So the short and sweet moral to the story for all of us? Don’t be a dick.