a fox and a snake (and the meaning of ‘mica’)

Today I have learned a whole bunch of new words, some more likely to be useful in conversation than others – they include magnaccia (pimp), biscia (grass snake) and ‘mica’ which I will come back to in a minute. I am currently halfway through reading Gianrico Carofiglio’s “Testimone Inconsapevole” – in Italian- without an English translation to hand. It is one of a series of books about the lawyer Guido Guerrieri – SO, depending on the time of day I can follow it quite well (morning reading), or alternatively whole paragraphs can go by where I fail to understand a thing (bedtime reading!). I appreciate his writing style which is quite simple, but his books are clever and funny.
Anyways, after days of slooow progress all of a sudden (all’improvviso) I realised that I was reading quite fluently without having to stop and consult a dictionary every two minutes. The scenario was that a lawyer and a lady magistrate were chatting – neither one likes the other very much. the lawyer has told a ‘funny story’/ una storiella to the lady magistrate and made some disparaging remarks about lady magistrates. so the magistrate takes her turn to tell her storiella:

A fox and a grass snake are wandering through the forest (separately) when it starts to rain. they both happen to take shelter in the same tunnel (cunicolo) but it is buio pesto (pitch black) in there so they can’t see each other only sense that the other is there. the tunnel is too narrow to get past each other but neither wants to give way and move. Neither will risk attacking the other one because they don’t know how dangerous the opponent is. They decide to play a game where they each take a turn to guess what kind of creature the other is by feeling each other, and the loser will have to be the one to move. the grass snake goes first and easily guesses the fox’s identity (orecchie lunge, muso aguzzo). but the fox still wants a turn to even things up. so the fox has a feel of the snake and says:
“che testa piccolo che hai, non hai le orecchie, sei viscido (slimy), lungo. Non hai I coglioni?! E non sarai mica un avvocato?” The punch-line I attempt to translate as “You’re not a lawyer at all, are you?” This word ‘mica’ is a negative expression kind of like the word “affatto”… (not..at all). But I might need to acquire the English translation to check – and so I can cheat a bit at bedtime 🙂 I gather that ‘mica’ has quite a colloquial usage. a couple of common phrases where it is used:
mica male! – not bad!, not bad at all!
mica tanto – not really (for example someone asks you if you would be interested in reading a certain book. you’re not interested in the book, so you might reply “mica tanto” – not really (not interested).
In conclusion to the story, the lady magistrate is the winner. the lawyer tries to laugh but only manages a ‘ghigno forzato’.


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