Folk Speech- Sicilian-American

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 74
Occupation: Medical Doctor
Residence: Mount Kisco, NY
Date of Performance/Collection: April 22, 2011
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Italian; Sicilian dialect

“Face levata” (Sicilian dialect)

“Cleaned face”

“Putting on a straight face”

The above item was learned by the informant most likely from his grandparents, between the ages of 9 and 12, perhaps while they were talking to his parents in Sicilian dialect, and using the phrase to describe someone. According to the informant, this folk speech is used in “any circumstance” in which a person is hiding their true feelings, such as “withholding their criticism” or “hiding their disdain”; when they are, in other words, “putting a good face on, or pretending.” The informant considers this phrase a “useful and clever way to express an interaction between people,” particularly when others who are around cannot understand the meaning of the phrase because it is Sicilian.

To capture the meaning of this piece of Sicilian folk speech, I use the more familiar phrase “Putting on a straight face” since it seems the best rendering of the phrase with an American equivalent. However, as the latter seems most typically understood as the concealment of negative feelings with more of a neutral face or disposition so as to comport oneself as being “alright” when this is not really the case, this may not fully encapsulate the meaning of the original if, as the informant states, it may also describe a person who is doing even more—namely, “putting a good face on.” Accordingly, this possible additional meaning must be taken into account in considering the phrase, as it is unclear to what extent “clean” and “straight” express the same notion in their respective phrases. That being said, I agree with the informant that the item is “useful and clever” since it represents an easy and succinct way of conveying what may be a rather complex social dynamic.