6

In Italian, we use the expression Sei scemo o mangi sassi? which can be literally translated as "Are you stupid, or do you eat rocks?" It is a way of saying "You are stupid."

What is the more idiomatic way of translating it?

  • Does "o" have a wider range of meanings than "or"? In English this implies that eating rocks is not stupid. – StoneyB Jul 5 '13 at 12:40
  • 3
    I'm Italian, having always lived in Northern Italy, and I've never heard such an expression. Where is it used? – Paola Jul 5 '13 at 14:46
  • 1
    @Paola, I never heard something similar, too, perhaps it can be a regional usage. For the record, I prefer: "Ci sei o ci fai?" – user114 Jul 5 '13 at 15:07
  • 2
    Many, probably most, idioms don't translate very well. Your choices are to translate literally and hope people get the idea, or to use a phrase that conveys a similar idea in the target language, even if it uses few of the same words. – Jay Jul 5 '13 at 16:03
  • 1
    AFAIK this is not used in north-east of Italy, although I know people from Brescia that use it. Maybe is from that area? The "Ci sei o ci fai?" is much more common, although less funny. – Bakuriu Jul 5 '13 at 17:01
7

It's easy enough to find sarcastic ways of telling someone they're stupid, but translating the Italian expression while keeping its sense and force is tricky.

The literal sense is not obvious to me. The only interpretation that suggests itself is that it contrasts innate stupidity with deliberately acquired stupidity, induced by eating rocks. If this is the case, then it falls in line with a well-known class of English-language insults:

Are you naturally incompetent or did you have to practice?
You a natural-born bitch or you just tryin to piss me off?
Are you naturally stupid or did you take lessons?


ADD: This appears to be the sense of Carlo_R's version, "Ci sei o ci fai?", approximately "Is that who you are or are you just pretending?"


That leaves the "eat rocks" piece to deal with. As Messrs. Schwartz and Au observe, "rocks" are associated with stupidity in English—“dumb as a rock, as a box of rocks”, “head full of rocks”—but eating rocks would be taken as a symptom of stupidity, not a cause of it. Your translation would have to convey that causality explicitly:

You naturally stupid or'd you eat rocks to get that way?

But that's still not entirely satisfactory. Traduttore, traditore. (The only Italian I completely understand!)

  • I think the Italian expression is giving a false choice; what is really saying is "Are you stupid, or are you stupid?" since eating rocks is not smart. The funny part is seeing the people you asked that perplex and trying to understand what they should be answering, which would be mean they are stupid. Somebody could reply "I eat rocks." knowing exactly what the question means. Your first three expressions use the same mechanism: Asking people to choose between two choices distract them from what you are saying. – kiamlaluno Jul 5 '13 at 17:00
  • AFAIK the word tradittore doesn't exist. You probably meant traditore, with one t. – Bakuriu Jul 5 '13 at 17:04
  • @kiamlaluno Ah, now I get it. In effect it's "Are you stupid or are you on the other hand stupid?" – StoneyB Jul 5 '13 at 18:23
  • @Bakuriu One {t} is what I had, and then I got nervous and went online - and the first three hits I got had {tt}, so I changed it. Makes sense: -dittore would be L transdictor, not traditor. I'll change it back. – StoneyB Jul 5 '13 at 18:27
4

Any of the various ways English speakers tell people they are stupid will do. The best one depends on the contexts in which Italian speakers would use that particular idiom or the age and social status of the people speaking. You would want to pick the phrase English speakers would likely use to convey "you are stupid" in that same context.

Possible choices: "Dummy!", "Idiot!", "Are you really that stupid?", "You're dumber than a box of rocks", "Where were you when God gave out brains?", "Somewhere, a village is missing its idiot", "If all the village idiots left their villages and formed their own village of idiots, in that village you would be the village idiot", "You're a few cards short of a full deck", "if you were any stupider, I'd have to water you", and so on.

  • 1
    +1 for Where were you when God handed out brains? As for a few cards short of a full deck, that reminds me of another kind of expression the might deserve its own paragraph: not the brightest crayon in the box (or, bulb in the chandelier); not the sharpest tack on the wall (or tool in the shed, or knife in the drawer, etc.). Dozens more here. – J.R. Jul 5 '13 at 14:54
  • I like the "if all the village idiots left their village […]." – kiamlaluno Jul 23 '13 at 19:01
3

The equivalent English expression is, "do you have rocks in your head?"

3

I would say the closest to an English expression with the same connotations, would be something like:

Are you trying to be stupid, or does it just come naturally?

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.