How should I translate "mica" adverb into English?

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3

I sometimes guess the meaning in some uses of the Italian "mica" adverb, but I don't know how to exactly translate it into English.

Let's consider these examples from Treccani:

non è mica vero

sono cose vere, mica fantasie!

mica male questa bistecca!;

non mica un dio Selvaggio o de la plebe de gli dèi

What's the proper equivalent for "mica" in all these? The Oxford dictionary has only 2 of these uses and are translated by "not bad" and "not at all". I usually avoid translating it, but if I have to I just use "really".

symbiotech

Posted 2014-02-01T08:36:33.193

Reputation: 874

"Mica" is used to emphasise the denial of something. In a sense, it is used as a double negation.Pedro Cardoso 2018-01-20T20:03:09.397

Sorry, symbiotech, but why are you asking this question rather than opening an Italian-English dictionary and reading the “mica” article? Or, if you did so, what was wrong with the answers you found?DaG 2014-02-01T08:41:58.327

2symbiotech, 'really' works there, but, anyway, don't exaggerate in using 'mica', a strange word that I tend to avoid.Kyriakos Kyritsis 2014-02-01T09:31:33.800

1@DaG it is really a difficult word for outsiders. the dictionary gave me just "not bad" and "not at all".symbiotech 2014-02-01T12:01:57.747

@symbiotech: Thanks for updating your question after my comment. Notice, first, that the site you mention also gives the useful “by any chance”; and, second, that it is just a very terse web page. If you are serious about learning Italian you should consider browsing an actual, complete (paper or digital) vocabulary. For instance, 2006 Ragazzini gives for mica: «avv. (fam.) 1 (per nulla) at all; in the least; one bit (fam.): Non costa m. tanto, it is not at all expensive; Non sono m. stanco, I am not in the least tired; Non mi piace m., I don't like it at all;» [follows]DaG 2014-02-01T13:17:41.287

[following] «Non è m. cambiato, it hasn't changed one bit; Non è m. uno scherzo!, it's no joke! 2 (non) not: M. male!, not bad!; «Ti piace?» «M. tanto», «do you like it?» «not much, really»; M. te l'ho preso io!, I certainly didn't take it! 3 (per caso) by any chance: Hai m. visto le mie chiavi?, have you seen my keys, by any chance?; Non si sarà m. arrabbiato? he's not upset, is he?»DaG 2014-02-01T13:21:13.003

3“Exact translation” is the translator's dream. ;-) Unfortunately it's not possible and mica, as well as other common adverbs (più, meno) or even pronouns (ne), is a word that has no exact correspondent in English. Also the converse is true: thereof comes to mind immediately.egreg 2014-02-02T16:52:45.390

I think Italian resembles some Nigerian languages as in sentence formation 'mica' either translate as 'is that not so?' in a rhetorical context or 'that is not so' e.g non è vero-it is not true... non è mica vero- it is not true, is that not so?.....mica male-it is not so bad. – None – 2015-07-18T17:48:41.610

Answers

14

There isn't a proper translation. The translation changes depending on the context in which it is used, keep in mind that it is a negation, also used to form rhetorical questions or a reinforcement (I prefer to call it "modulator") of denial. To translate that, in terms of meaning, you can use many adverbs or sentence structures. As far as I know, there are no words in English that also have the informal connotation of "mica" and its "rhetorical value". Let's start with easy examples of how to modulate the negation:

Non glielo dico mica! | (Surely) I'm not going to tell him about that!

Non capisco mica la tua domanda. | I don't understand at all your question.

Mica male! | Not bad! (In this case maybe you could use "Quite good!", or I found this translation "It’s not hardly that bad." too.)

Mica male questa domanda. | Not bad this question.

"mica" can be used in the context of fear that something that we don't want is happening, hoping for a negative answer fearing for an affirmative one. Read these examples (the translation is quite hard so don't take it as good ones): 

Non mi denuncerà mica per questo? | He won't sue me for that, will he?

Non si sarà mica fatto male! | He wouldn't hurt himself, has he?

Non sarà mica partito senza il casco! | I hope that he has not left without his helmet!

Now the next are more difficult to understand because there is the rethorical meaning, this first one suppose that we take into account the possibility of a negative answer:

Hai mica una sigaretta? | by any chance would you have a cigarette?

The sense you should try to convey is that the person who is using "mica" knows that the person is talking with thought a determinate things that it isn't true.

Non voglio mica fregarti! | (I know that you think so) but I really don't want to rip you off!

For me even this one have this sense:

Non gli credo mica! | I don't believe him at all!

Fun fact

Google translate doesn't translate mica because it is common only in spoken Italian while Google mainly uses books and written material to translate texts!

References

http://robinonawire.wordpress.com/2012/01/01/mica-how-to-use-it/ http://www.wordreference.com/iten/mica

G M

Posted 2014-02-01T08:36:33.193

Reputation: 872

1I would suggest also another way to translate "Non gli credo mica":"I am not silly enough to believe him".alsa 2015-08-29T22:03:36.540

1I would add as a possible translation (in some context): "ain't it"Riccardo De Contardi 2018-01-20T22:59:53.360

6I believe the correct translation for Non si sarà mica fatto male? should be He hasn't hurt himself, has he?. He wouldn't hurt himself, would he? would instead translate to Non ha mica intenzione di farsi del male? (or Non si farebbe mica del male, vero?).nico 2014-02-01T15:58:31.707

1@nico I think you are right!G M 2014-02-02T10:13:55.603

1Another possibility is to leave out mica in the translation, and, if appropriate, render it by "modulating" the intonation (e.g., by adding a note to a screenplay). Especially the translations with at all appear questionable to me. Non gli credo mica is not the same as non gli credo affatto.Walter Tross 2014-02-09T14:15:29.333

2

"Mica" is not at all (one could say "non è mica"..) a strange colloquial interjection to be safely ignored: perhaps it is useful to remember that it comes straight from Latin and as a noun it means "briciola", -- a crumb of bread.

When we use "mica" as an adverb, we mean "not in the least", "not at all" ("not a crumb of it"); check the Emilian dialect "brisa" that has the same meaning and is used in the same way: "brisa par criticher" = "mica per criticare" = "not to criticise in the least".

It's not so strange, -- the French have taken a similar word meaning a small unit, ("pas" = "step") and made it indispensable to form a regular negative sentence, losing its original meaning.... :-)

Interestingly, in old French one can find the French equivalent of "mica" ("mie") used in lieu of "pas" in negative sentences (they also used "goutte" or "drop" before settling for "pas").

maurice_

Posted 2014-02-01T08:36:33.193

Reputation: 391

1

First off, don't use 'mica', which trivializes any assertion:

non è mica vero
non è affatto vero
sono cose vere, mica fantasie!
sono cose vere, per nulla fantasie
mica male questa bistecca!
non male questa bistecca!
non mica un dio Selvaggio o de la plebe de gli dèi
non affatto un dio Selvaggio o de la plebe ...

As I said in the comments, use really, or not really, to translate.

Kyriakos Kyritsis

Posted 2014-02-01T08:36:33.193

Reputation: 2 839

5Can you backup the part where you say that it trivializes any assertion? There's no such mention in the dictionary.Alenanno 2014-02-01T10:15:32.560

4"sono cose vere, per nulla fantasie" is waaay too formal. I would think twice before using it even in a book.mau 2014-02-01T10:18:55.910

1@Alenan., there are things that dictionaries don't say.Kyriakos Kyritsis 2014-02-01T11:26:32.313

3@KyriakosKyritsis Many things, but what you said in your answer sounds more like personal preference, rather than objective usage.Alenanno 2014-02-01T11:28:03.310

3I disagree. Mica is commonly used in spoken language and sometimes it is just OK to use it. I agree with @mau that, for instance, the second example you give sounds overly formal and would definitely sound more strange than the other version.nico 2014-02-01T15:55:41.737