Ma Cchi Nnìcchi Nnàcchi? : What Does It Mean & When Should You Use It?

If you’ve ever spent time in Sicily, you may (knowingly or not!) have heard the phrase “ma cchi nnìcchi nnàcchi?” as you explore the island. It’s a phrase most often heard in Catania (a city on the east coast), where people of all generations and classes use it.

But where did this phrase come from, what does it mean, and can—and should—you use it? Read on to learn more!

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What does “ma cchi nnìcchi nnàcchi” mean?  

“Ma cchi nnìcchi nnàcchi?” is a neutral and friendly way to ask someone close to you, “what are you talking about?” or “what are you raving on about?” It’s a fun way to point out that the topic someone is talking about has strayed far from the original point of conversation.

It may also be used to point out that someone is wrong, or even lying, without seeming big-headed or mean. It’s a teasing phrase that can be used with friends and new acquaintances.

Where did the saying come from?

The origins of “ma cchi nnìcchi nnàcchi” can be traced all the way back to the Latin language to a phrase with a slightly different meaning: “nech hic nec hoc”, which is literally translated as “neither this nor that.” These ancient origins give the phrase more impact when it is used – a sort of “ancient wisdom” behind the words, which makes them less accusatory.

Latin | Glory of Rome

When should “ma cchi nnìcchi nnàcchi” be used?

If you’re learning Sicilian, then you likely want to learn the idioms and turns of phrase that make all the difference between you speaking a language and truly understanding it. You can use this phrase when you’re debating a topic with a friend or family member to highlight that what they’re saying sounds wildly out of place or really doesn’t have anything to do with the topic being discussed.

“Ma cchi nnìcchi nnàcchi?” is also used when someone catches another in a lie during a conversation, though only if the circumstances are not serious.

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You should use it when you want to point out that someone is wrong, but don’t want to do it in a way that may get someone’s feelings hurt. If you use the phrase correctly, you’ll appear witty and friendly, and be able to create a more jovial atmosphere and create deeper friendships with the local people.

If you can master “Ma cchi nnìcchi nnàcchi?” and use it well when talking to locals in Catania and the rest of Sicily, you’ll show your deeper understanding of the language and you’ll be able to develop better relationships and have deeper conversations. Of course, simply being able to understand the context of the phrase when used, even if you aren’t brave enough to use it yourself, will still help you have better conversations and connections!

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