"I don't know what that is." "You know... Gabagool."
November 6, 2015 6:40 AM   Subscribe

How Capicola Became Gabagool: The Italian New Jersey Accent, Explained.
posted by bondcliff (105 comments total) 65 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm just so happy that they actually interviewed some very knowledgable experts/actual linguists who work on Italian dialects-- both in Italy and in the US!-- for this. I saw this pop up on my Facebook feed and was worried I was going to be in for something like the "Australian English is just drunk English" debacle that went around last week. But instead, good stuff!
posted by damayanti at 6:49 AM on November 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


The article doesn't really take the journey on how those words are spoken, which is why I hate the "Jersey" Italian pronunciation (and I say this as an Italian American who's lived in New Jersey his whole life). It's not "gabagool," which would be one thing, it's "gobba-GOOL" with a deep bass on the second syllable and the lips stuck out obnoxiously and a hand gesture to emphasize how "authentic" one is. "Muhtza-dell" is in a high register and clipped like you'd be offended if it had an "a" sound in it. The accent is one thing, but it's used to be obnoxiously fake-authentic.
posted by graymouser at 7:00 AM on November 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


Diasporas are weird, linguistically speaking. My grandfather spoke Cajun French as his first language, but the French pilots he helped train during World War II could understand him just fine, even if they poked a little fun at the archaic vocabulary. So apparently Cajun French and French-French (which forked like 400 years ago) are more mutually intelligible than two different dialects/variants/whatever of Italian — even though, like Italian, the idea of a standardized “French” is quite new.

(Sadly for my family, very little of the Cajun French survived — my grandmother spoke no French of any sort, so it didn’t get spoken around the house. The only word my dad seems to have picked up was “Allons!” — announced, dad-like, when we were all ready to walk out the door to go somewhere.)
posted by savetheclocktower at 7:02 AM on November 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'm curious how they made that "Tuscan is the Real Italian now, stop speaking your regional dialect" plan work.
posted by notyou at 7:03 AM on November 6, 2015


I'm curious how they made that "Tuscan is the Real Italian now, stop speaking your regional dialect" plan work.

All the rich people did it, so it became the prestige dialect.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:11 AM on November 6, 2015 [15 favorites]


I'm a Midwestern transplant to Connecticut, married to someone of Italian heritage with deep Southern Connecticut roots. Somehow I found another person in a very similar situation, and one of the things that has connected us in sisterhood is how weirded out we both were by the shortening of "mozzarella" to "mootz."

I don't know if that one is specific to the New Haven area (this article and its "mutza-dell" makes me think it may be). Whatever it is, it certainly didn't make it to the Midwest (but they don't know rope Provel, so I guess we all have our quirks).
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:11 AM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's a class delimter, notyou. Standard Italian is for edjumacated folk, adding a soft R to every thing signals upper classes, and dialect is for use with your family, friends, for maximum offense, and by the uneducated poors. (Slightly exaggerated for effect, but not by much.)
posted by romakimmy at 7:14 AM on November 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


The accent is one thing, but it's used to be obnoxiously fake-authentic.

My mother does this and it drives me nuts. Mutzah-dell! Ri-gott! She talks like this at Italian restaurants and whenever I'm with them I just want to die inside.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:17 AM on November 6, 2015 [15 favorites]


I always wondered by ricotta was pronounced ri-GOT. It maps perfectly.

Now I wonder if dropping the final vowel was helped along by the fact that the surviving words tend to be used as an object ("Pass the ri-GOT.")
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:18 AM on November 6, 2015


This is probably related to the habit of many self-styled intellectuals of overpronouncing words of foreign origin. This behavior, incidentally, is named after one of its most prominent practitioners, and thus is known as "Trebekking."
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:20 AM on November 6, 2015 [20 favorites]


I grew up in Jersey (Jew, though), and pronounce calamari "calamad" most of the time. No idea where I picked it up.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:21 AM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


There is an awesome paper out there on the word "Cuzsh" - as in "What's up cuzsh"
posted by JPD at 7:23 AM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


My dad is Italian (though I just got my 23andMe DNA results back and it looks like there's 10% German there... oops... someone has a secret!) but he's the sort of Italian who doesn't like Garlic and eats sauce from a jar. Growing up we didn't have Capicola and Prosciutto so I have no idea how he pronounces it. We called it ham.

The only Italian he really ever used was, when we kids did something clever, he'd say something like "You smart like aggad-ach!" which he said meant "a cockroach" but my brother claims is Sicilian slang for "little person" or something like that." Not sure why he'd use Sicilian words since our people came from Avellino.
posted by bondcliff at 7:24 AM on November 6, 2015


I think I might have actually eaten a capicola sandwich while watching The Sopranos on multiple occasions before realizing that's what "gabbagool" was supposed to mean.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:28 AM on November 6, 2015 [13 favorites]


All the rich people did it, so it became the prestige dialect.

Incidentally, the converse is said to be why English survived (just about) the Norman conquest; the Normans, being the descendants of Vikings who settled in Normandy a generation earlier, spoke a declassé provincial dialect of French, which didn't confer the prestige of Parisian French. Had they spoken Parisian French, English may have been well and truly extinguished.
posted by acb at 7:28 AM on November 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm half-Italian and it still sounds like nails on a chalkboard when Giada switches in and out of her Italian accent to pronounce the names of certain things. Is it just me?
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:29 AM on November 6, 2015 [8 favorites]


Giada is just fakey fakey.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:30 AM on November 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


I grew up in North Jersey only knowing how to pronounce Capicola that way and had a hard time retraining myself once I moved out here to Pennsylvania where they say "Cap-eh-cola".

My sister tells a story about elementary school when they were asked what their favorite foods were and a classmate said "a-beetz". The nun, who wasn't local, said "Beets? That's an odd thing to have as a favorite food". And the kid said, "No, no, a-beetz pie!"
posted by octothorpe at 7:31 AM on November 6, 2015 [12 favorites]


Most of my neighborhood was made up of first and second generation Italian immigrants. When it came time to choose a foreign language in junior high, many chose Italian, expecting an easy "A". I'll never forget the teacher passing back the results of the first quiz when it quickly became apparent that the dialect spoken at home bore little resemblance to the textbook Italian taught in school.
posted by dr_dank at 7:32 AM on November 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


Stugotz!
posted by colie at 7:32 AM on November 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


"Gabagool" just doesn't sound like a deli meat, though. It sounds more like it should be a peasant stew, like cioppino or something like that.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:32 AM on November 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


I agree with the modern class stuff when it comes to the death of dialects/regional languages, but you have to take into account Fascist Italy's campaign for standardization as well.

Similar to Franco's assault on non-Castillian Spanish, you have about 25 years of aggressive suppression of "foreign" languages in the 20's, 30's and 40's. Standard (Tuscan) Italian was the language of the state, and a key tenant of Fascism was the subordinance of the individual to the state. So obviously they wanted everyone to speak the State Language.

In the article, they talk about Calabrian and Piedmontese, which are heavily Greek and French influenced (respectively). So once you get lack of individuality plus what could be perceived as "dangerous" foreign/outsider influence, well, fuhgettaboutit.

(I'm having a hard time finding non-academic sources on this but can probably dredge something up if people are interested).
posted by daniel striped tiger at 7:36 AM on November 6, 2015 [10 favorites]


Other than "gabagool" and "mutzadell" I'd say the most common "Jersey-Italian" word to enter the larger lexicon has to be "pasta fazool" soup.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:40 AM on November 6, 2015 [11 favorites]


Oh yeah, my dad always talked about "pasta fazoo" but for him it just involved adding a can of Campbell's baked beans to a jar of Ragu and serving it over Spaghetti.

My dad is really bad at being Italian.
posted by bondcliff at 7:43 AM on November 6, 2015 [31 favorites]


Other than "gabagool" and "mutzadell" I'd say the most common "Jersey-Italian" word to enter the larger lexicon has to be "pasta fazool" soup.

Oh god yes. Not only is that one in my Italian in-laws lexicon, it made it to the Midwest (via my New Jersey-born-and-raised mother) so I knew it from childhood. It was actually her word for food that you couldn't really identify--whenever she asked me what I had for lunch at school and I couldn't remember she'd say it was pasta fazool. (It took me YEARS to match that up with "pasta e fagioli" when I started cooking seriously as an adult.)
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:43 AM on November 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm guessing the arrival of radio broadcasting and talkies at the cinema, both in the early 1920s, did a lot to standardize spoken languages.
posted by Bee'sWing at 7:49 AM on November 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


> I agree with the modern class stuff when it comes to the death of dialects/regional languages, but you have to take into account Fascist Italy's campaign for standardization as well.

Similar to Franco's assault on non-Castillian Spanish, you have about 25 years of aggressive suppression of "foreign" languages in the 20's, 30's and 40's.


This isn't a fascist thing, it's a totalizing state thing. France started doing it after the Revolution, China's doing it now -- even Cantonese is under threat, never mind the less widely spoken "dialects" (actually separate languages). Governments fear difference and want to wipe it out.
posted by languagehat at 7:51 AM on November 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


bondcliff: "for him it just involved adding a can of Campbell's baked beans to a jar of Ragu and serving it over Spaghetti. "

My Calabrian great-grandmother just crossed herself in the grave, and maybe made a hand gesture against the malocchio.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:52 AM on November 6, 2015 [26 favorites]


Living here deep in the heart of Jersey this strange oddity of the language has long intrigued me. I have had parts of what the article goes into explained, but never quite so nicely encapsulated with the linguistic history as this. Great post.
posted by caddis at 8:03 AM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have a somewhat similar story involving Nebraska and the Swedish word for 'wainscoting', but it seems a bit far from New Jersey and Italian, plus I lack the IPA to write up the pronunciations.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:07 AM on November 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Well, I'm sure once HBO releases their series about the Swedish mob in flyover country's passion for wooden paneling, someone will write a decent article about why they pronounce the word wainscoting the way they do.
posted by bondcliff at 8:09 AM on November 6, 2015 [19 favorites]


I grew up (and again live) on Long Island; this is pretty much how everybody, Italian or otherwise, talks (except, maybe, maybe, some of the super-white North Shore people and a few Jews). I had no idea that manigot was "manicotti" until probably my late teens. I can't even bring myself to say "manicotti." It's just such an ugly word in American.
posted by uncleozzy at 8:10 AM on November 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


yeah I grew up in New Jersey too (we are not Italian) and my dad always talked like this and I thought it was some strange affectation of his. not until watching the Sopranos, like in my 30s, did I learn that its a thing.
posted by supermedusa at 8:12 AM on November 6, 2015


My personal favorite is how "calimari" becomes "galama." I swear to God, I thought it was spelled "galama" until I was 16 or 17. I remember seeing "calimari" on a menu somewhere once around that age and being very confused until someone explained it to me (and then still being somewhat confused).

I grew up (and again live) on Long Island; this is pretty much how everybody, Italian or otherwise, talks (except, maybe, maybe, some of the super-white North Shore people and a few Jews). I had no idea that manigot was "manicotti" until probably my late teens. I can't even bring myself to say "manicotti." It's just such an ugly word in American.


I think this stuff is really more of a blue-collar NYC metro area Italian-American accent than it is specific to North Jersey, though there are some small variations depending on the locale (and it has bled into other ethnic groups, particularly of the white Catholic variety).
posted by breakin' the law at 8:14 AM on November 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


A family friend always brought sfogliatella from an Italian bakery to our house in NJ for parties. From the way they said the name, I had no idea what it was really called.
posted by smackfu at 8:15 AM on November 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I assume anyone in the midwest knows "pasta fazool" because it's in "That's Amore." I mean, that's where I heard it, when I saw Moonstruck, which is kind of like a master class in Italian stereotypes but done with love.

I had no idea what pasta fazool actually was, though.
posted by emjaybee at 8:17 AM on November 6, 2015


sphooey(half shell flaky pastries from the Portugese bakery in Newark)
mootzy(what you stole from the plate as dinner was being made, or gave to the baby to shut him up till dinner was ready)
The malecchia (evil eye if you were being a bad kid )

I had 5 cousins and three brothers, all of whom have had at least 1.5 kids- I wonder if they teach their kids this way, as we grew up in Jersey at some point or another.
posted by LuckyMonkey21 at 8:26 AM on November 6, 2015


What this really points out to me is that there are some changes in pronunciation that people can accommodate, while others make a word unrecognizable. (American) English speakers seem to have a lot of trouble recognizing the kg voicing change.

Armenian names seem to unvoice frequently, so:

Krikor, Krikorian ↔ Gregor, son of Gregor.

If you add in the ovw mutation the name Kervorkian becomes familiar:

Kervorkian ↔ son of Kevork ↔ son of Gevorg ↔ son of George.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:26 AM on November 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


I first encountered this when talking to my friend's Italian American boyfriend in Staten Island who asked for "ri-GOTT." But the Sopranos definitely popularized the phenomenon.

My mom's family left Greece in the 1920s and my dad in the 50s, and not only did we learn the language from our grandparents, giving us a rather archaic vocabulary, but language textbooks for learning the language in the US evolved separately from the old country, owing to various coups and government upheavals which separated the Greek educational system from the Greek American one. My family's vocabulary maintains a lot of archaisms and formalisms which aren't used anymore-- the result is that we come across speaking as "villagers trying to sound sophisticated."
posted by deanc at 8:38 AM on November 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


A family friend always brought sfogliatella from an Italian bakery to our house in NJ for parties. From the way they said the name, I had no idea what it was really called.

I was once surreptitiously asked to resolve a dispute over how this was pronounced when someone went up to me, pointed to the pastry, and asked me what it was called. I replied, "a yellow cream puff."
posted by deanc at 8:42 AM on November 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


"Capicola"? The original is capocollo/capicollo.
posted by progosk at 8:46 AM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


My grandfather was defintiely all about "abeetz" and "riggot". But he usually said "beeskohtee" presumably because the final "i" on biscotti is required to indicate the plural and so it couldn't be dropped.

In any case, when I was young, this was the only pronunciation I had heard and basically it seemed like nobody else even knew what biscotti were. Then, sometime in the late 90's or so, they became more widely popular and I started hearing people say "biskahtee". That was pure nails on chalkboard to my ears, and it still is! Meanwhile, my dad seems to have taken to hyper-NY/NJ-ifying it and is saying "bishkots"! I just desperately cling to my original pronunciation!
posted by delicious-luncheon at 8:53 AM on November 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


The difference between dialect and Standard Italian (and the communities that spoke them and the cultural meaning of each) was an important and fascinating part of Elena Ferrante's Neopolitan trilogy.
posted by sallybrown at 8:57 AM on November 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


This isn't a fascist thing, it's a totalizing state thing. France started doing it after the Revolution

Even before that, monarchist France was strongly centralised for some time, which is why languages like Occitan were suppressed virtually to extinction and the French language was pretty thoroughly homogenised (at least until France colonised parts of Africa and the Americas).
posted by acb at 8:58 AM on November 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Hey, since we've got a Decendants of Southern Italians of MetaFilter meeting going here, can anyone tell me anything about a tradition that my family had that I've never been able to track down info about, partially because of the weird pronunciation of the thing that might be nothing like it is spelled. It's an Easter tradition where every child gets an elaborate shortbread-ish cookie (often in the shape of a basket, with braided handle and all) covered in a sugary glaze and rainbow sprinkles, that also has a whole in-the-shell hardboiled egg baked in? Best guess as to how to spell the name of the cookie would be "cutsoopi" or "cudzupee". The "cut/cud-" rhymes with "put" not "cut". Anyone?
posted by Rock Steady at 9:04 AM on November 6, 2015


OK. Wow. The last piece of the puzzle falls into place, and it's a picture of me, captioned "clueless idiot".

My first wife was New Jersey Italian. I am Alabama redneck, though I lived in New York long enough to acquire a taste for delicious deli meats. So we'd put our grocery list together, here in the Deep South, and once in a while she or I would say, "get some hot cappy".

And every time, she would exclaim, "GABBAGOOL!"

Every time.

This went on intermittently for almost fifteen years.

Until this moment, I had never connected the word she always shouted with the deli meat capicola. I guess I just assumed GABBAGOOL was some sort of generic New Jersey Italian expression meaning "yay cured meats".

Oh my God I'm such a dumbass.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:16 AM on November 6, 2015 [117 favorites]


My Italian-American neighbor, born in the US in 1915, but whose parents were from a village in Campobasso, would say Gesù Cristo as Jazzdu Gweest.

She said that a lot when I was around.
posted by zippy at 9:17 AM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Rock Steady, I've heard it buba cu'lova, but I've only seen it describe the bread with the egg inside, not a basket-shaped cookie.
posted by dr_dank at 9:18 AM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


BitterOldPunk, me too!
posted by zippy at 9:19 AM on November 6, 2015


This makes me hungry for SPAGETT!
posted by dhens at 9:25 AM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Jazzdu Gweest

Hello, Star Wars Galaxy Jesus
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:26 AM on November 6, 2015 [27 favorites]


So, what's I'm lead to believe is... It's a fugazi?

I didn't even realize "gabagool" meant anything. I thought you just kinda threw it in there when you were trying to be extra Italian.
posted by cmoj at 9:34 AM on November 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


an elaborate shortbread-ish cookie (often in the shape of a basket, with braided handle and all) covered in a sugary glaze and rainbow sprinkles, that also has a whole in-the-shell hardboiled egg baked in? Best guess as to how to spell the name of the cookie would be "cutsoopi" or "cudzupee". The "cut/cud-" rhymes with "put" not "cut". Anyone?

That sounds like the Sicilian cuddura cull'ova; not sure where the new name's derived from, possibly from one of the names used for the specific shapes the cuddura can take?

I've heard it buba cu'lova

That would be pupa cull'ova, the doll-shaped version made for girls.
posted by progosk at 9:36 AM on November 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


So now can somebody please tell me where "fangool" comes from? I know it's rude (or was -- does anyone say it any more?). Am I right in guessing its from "vanfanculo"? [Yes I could google it but what fun is that?]
posted by pleasant_confusion at 9:39 AM on November 6, 2015


Am I right in guessing its from "vanfanculo"?

Nearly: vaffanculo!
(Which works out to: Vai a far(ti fottere) nel culo.)
posted by progosk at 9:42 AM on November 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


I love regional dialect differences but italian is really out of control. I always knew my ex and his family were speaking a southern dialect that was nonstandard italian but I never really understood how incredibly locally specific it was until I came back to the US and was at a NYFW party with a bunch of milanese who were like oh my god you sound like a southern degenerate, when did you live in napoli

sort of like thinking you've learned russian but it's actually utterly impenetrable mat
posted by poffin boffin at 9:50 AM on November 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


This explains goomba/gumba (from compare/cumpàri).

I admit to never really noticing that everyone I knew of Italian descent was from Sicily.
posted by tommasz at 9:54 AM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm curious how they made that "Tuscan is the Real Italian now, stop speaking your regional dialect" plan work.

It's unfortunately very easy, and has been done all over the world: Make education compulsury, and make the standard language the only one students are allowed to learn and use. Many languages have been extinguished this way, and many cultures along with them.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:01 AM on November 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


A li'ul moah motz on that 'za bae!
posted by Oyéah at 10:06 AM on November 6, 2015


""Gabagool" just doesn't sound like a deli meat, though. It sounds more like it should be a peasant stew, like cioppino or something like that."

Wasn't that the name of that horror movie recently? The Gabagool or something like that? Babagool? Gabadook?

Anyway, sure doesn't sound like food to me is all I'm sayin'. I should start telling kids to check under their beds for The Gabagool before they go to sleep. Sure to cause some humorous "So today I learned that my uncle taught me words wrong on purpose" stories a few years down they road when they run into their first Jersey Person.
posted by komara at 10:06 AM on November 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


backseatpilot:

"Gabagool" just doesn't sound like a deli meat, though. It sounds more like it should be a peasant stew, like cioppino or something like that.

This is exactly what I always imagined whenever I watched The Sopranos.

I think on some level I was thinking "glob of gruel."
posted by univac at 10:23 AM on November 6, 2015


Wasn't that the name of that horror movie recently? The Gabagool or something like that? Babagool? Gabadook?

The Babadook. Anagram for "a bad book."
posted by dlugoczaj at 10:32 AM on November 6, 2015


Giada is just fakey fakey.

She's from Rome. She moved from Italy to California when she was 13. Should she adopt new pronunciations for words, in order to seem more real?

Sidenote: the Slovene word for prosciutto is pršut, pronounced "prshut".
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:45 AM on November 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


Also, historical sound changes and dialectal variations are both super fascinating.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:49 AM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


That sounds like the Sicilian cuddura cull'ova; not sure where the new name's derived from, possibly from one of the names used for the specific shapes the cuddura can take?


Yeah, that's almost certainly the right baked treat. Who knows where my Nonna got the name. She also called taralli "biscotti" so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:50 AM on November 6, 2015


My Calabrian great-grandmother just crossed herself in the grave, and maybe made a hand gesture against the malocchio.

I think my grandmother did too, and she was from Cork. (But learned how to properly cook spaghetti from her Scicilian neighbour when she came over.)
posted by Diablevert at 10:51 AM on November 6, 2015


The Gabba Ghouls would be a dope name for a Misfits cover band. I am from NJ, used to work at a supermarket deli counter, and any time anyone ordered "cap-a-cola" the general reaction was like, "yeah, you're not from around here, eh?"
posted by zchyrs at 10:57 AM on November 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


She also called taralli "biscotti"

Called "ta'dells" in my north Jersey hometown. Best snack ever.
posted by the_blizz at 11:02 AM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


My sainted neighbor also made a mean "pasta faszhole."
posted by zippy at 11:16 AM on November 6, 2015


I'm pretty sure it was pasta pazoo (possibly pazool) where I grew up. Has anyone tracked these variations?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:21 AM on November 6, 2015


Anyone else say "lazahn" for lasagna other than my non-Italian older relatives?
posted by Sheydem-tants at 11:22 AM on November 6, 2015


Came here to post this! Wonderful. A much better explication of this phenomenon than you usually get - it's decently researched.

The accent is one thing, but it's used to be obnoxiously fake-authentic

This is so true (I'm from NJ too). It was once something that people said relatively un-selfconsciously; now it's over-emphasized as an identity marker, definitely aided and abetted by media representations of Italian-Americans.

pronounce calamari "calamad"

I hear that as something like "gool-a-mar."

a-BEETS

Another name for pizza, for a long time, has been Apizza. In cities in the region you can often find pizza places called [somebody's] Apizza: Modern Apizza, Pete's Apizza (say it out loud for extra fun), Amore Apizza, etc.
posted by Miko at 11:27 AM on November 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


Apizza is that's the New Haven Italian-American spelling. I think franchises and New Haven style pizza places have carried that name afield.
posted by zippy at 11:44 AM on November 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


It was fun to watch The Sopranos and realize my dad wasn't just making up nonsense words out of nowhere.
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:57 AM on November 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm from northern Jerz, my dad's side of the family is Italian and all live in/around New Brunswick, they came over en masse from Santa Flavia, Sicily in the 70s. I don't remember hearing any of these pronunciations (I moved to the midwest when I was ~10) until I started working at a thoroughly midwestern Italian deli in highschool. The chef was simply from Boston and had adopted Italian American culture and insisted on pronouncing mortadell, gabagool, etc.

Oh yeah, my dad always talked about "pasta fazoo" but for him it just involved adding a can of Campbell's baked beans to a jar of Ragu and serving it over Spaghetti.

My dad is really bad at being Italian.


Word. Cuisine at my dad's house: potatoes chopped up into discs and pan fried in a tooooon of olive oil = "Italian fries." Nutella on white bread = "ice cream sandwiches," and sometimes just cereal from a box. Your standard poor white people food.
posted by moons in june at 12:04 PM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


> Armenian names seem to unvoice frequently, so:

Krikor, Krikorian ↔ Gregor, son of Gregor.


That's two different dialects, Eastern and Western Armenian.

> Even before that, monarchist France was strongly centralised for some time, which is why languages like Occitan were suppressed virtually to extinction and the French language was pretty thoroughly homogenised

That homogenization didn't happen till the nineteenth century; read Graham Robb's magnificent The Discovery of France. Some of the dialects hung on into the twentieth (and Breton is still hanging in there despite the efforts of every French government to suppress it).
posted by languagehat at 12:05 PM on November 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


Also, according to this article, Italian Americans should pronounce cannoli like "ganool." Which isn't a thing.
posted by moons in june at 12:10 PM on November 6, 2015


"Wasn't that the name of that horror movie recently? The Gabagool or something like that? Babagool? Gabadook?

The Babadook. Anagram for "a bad book.""

I'm sorry, I didn't know how best to include the knowledge "I understand that the movie was called The Babadook" in my jokey post without actually putting those words in there. Thanks, though!

"I am from NJ, used to work at a supermarket deli counter, and any time anyone ordered "cap-a-cola" the general reaction was like, "yeah, you're not from around here, eh?""

So now you're telling me that gabagool is a shibboleth, which is yet another thing that sounds like it should be the title of a horror movie.
posted by komara at 12:18 PM on November 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


> Also, according to this article, Italian Americans should pronounce cannoli like "ganool." Which isn't a thing.

How do you know? I doubt you've canvassed all the Italian Americans in the country.
posted by languagehat at 12:20 PM on November 6, 2015


potatoes chopped up into discs and pan fried in a tooooon of olive oil = "Italian fries."

This may come as a surprise, but that was sold at my local pizza-by-the-slice place in NJ as "Italian fries" (and cooked by a 2nd gen Italian-American cook). They're still one of my madeleines. When I visit home I often sneak an order in while out shopping, served on a paper plate with a wooden toothpick stuck into the middle of the pile.
posted by Miko at 12:43 PM on November 6, 2015


Clearly, everyone has different experiences. I was born and raised in North Jersey, and have returned to my ancestral homeland. I am not of Italian descent, so I was always confused as I have friends and acquaintances who will speak Jersey Italian and Italian-Italian and all kinds of mishmash. Some do it only for deli; others for pasta. I have one friend who's only weird about pronouncing seafood (galama (?!) for calamari but nothing about gabbagool)!

On querying, most will say that they learned it from parents or other relatives that way.

I don't think I have poseur paisans, but it's possible...

I would never use Jersey pronunciation myself because I'm not of that tribe. I mangle Italian in proper American English, thanks.
posted by aureliobuendia at 12:47 PM on November 6, 2015




Other than what I said above, that thing my dad says "you smart like agad-ach", the only other time i heard him pronounce something like an Italian was a couple of years ago when he was talking about someone being from Italy who was "nab-ali-tan" where I would have just said "They're from Naples."

It was jarring. In 45 years I'd never heard him talk like that and suddenly it was like a 1980s newscaster saying "Nicaragua."

Wait, no, he also referred to my godfather, his sort-of-cousin, as "goombadda." He'd great him with "aye, goombadda!"

It's all coming back to me now. I imagine I'll remember a bunch more of these in the next 24 hours. I promise not to post a comment every time I do.
posted by bondcliff at 12:54 PM on November 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


Considering the demographics around New Brunswick I'm wondering when an enterprising diner is going to make some fusion Italian-American-Indian -American cuisine.
posted by The Whelk at 12:55 PM on November 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


My family is originally from the Naples area and settled in New Haven when they came to this country. This means that a) pizza everywhere else is a deep disappointment and b) I always get funny looks, especially now that I live in California, when I pronounce words like mozzarella (mooz-a-DELL), manicotti (mah-nee-GAWT), ricotta (rih-GAWT), or Neapolitan (nab-oh-lee-DAHN).

It's not an affectation; it's honestly how I learned to pronounce the words as a child and it takes real effort to try to say it differently.

My fiancé, whose introduction to the dialect was meeting me, jokes that he can't wait to ask my mom to pass the turk and grav during Thanksgiving dinner.
posted by jesourie at 1:00 PM on November 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


Considering the demographics around New Brunswick I'm wondering when an enterprising diner is going to make some fusion Italian-American-Indian -American cuisine.

Try the chicken tigg muhzal, it's phenomenal
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:05 PM on November 6, 2015 [18 favorites]


I'm now thinking of a chicken florentine mixed with a saag paneer
posted by The Whelk at 1:12 PM on November 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


If we're talking Rt. 27 I'd expect more of a fazool dosa tbh
posted by en forme de poire at 1:44 PM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I mean a fazool dos
posted by en forme de poire at 1:45 PM on November 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


That sounds like the Sicilian cuddura cull'ova; not sure where the new name's derived from, possibly from one of the names used for the specific shapes the cuddura can take?


A little further Googling from there leads me to discover that, in Calabria, they are in fact called "cuzzupe". Thanks for the lead, progosk!
posted by Rock Steady at 2:20 PM on November 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


he also referred to my godfather, his sort-of-cousin, as "goombadda."

That's compadre, of course.
posted by progosk at 2:54 PM on November 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


Let us not forget that staple of Italian cooking: bazel-ee-gol.
posted by Splunge at 2:57 PM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Glad to help, Rock Steady (here's some more detail on sub-regional variants, etymology, etc.)
posted by progosk at 3:10 PM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


If we're talking Rt. 27 I'd expect more of a fazool dosa tbh

Starch overload but sounds pretty good.
posted by kenko at 3:55 PM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I always get funny looks, especially now that I live in California, when I pronounce words like mozzarella (mooz-a-DELL), manicotti (mah-nee-GAWT), ricotta (rih-GAWT), or Neapolitan (nab-oh-lee-DAHN)

It is funny - I grew up in California and have never watched the Sopranos, and I honestly would have no idea what you were talking about if I heard any of those. I think the only pronunciation in this whole thread that sounds at all familiar is "pasta fazool."

posted by psoas at 4:21 PM on November 6, 2015


an elaborate shortbread-ish cookie (often in the shape of a basket, with braided handle and all) covered in a sugary glaze and rainbow sprinkles, that also has a whole in-the-shell hardboiled egg baked in? Best guess as to how to spell the name of the cookie would be "cutsoopi" or "cudzupee".
I vote for "cudzupee" being a Sicilian variant of "Khristópsomi," or "Christ's bread," the traditional Easter baked good served up in Greece. There was always a lot of traffic around the Southern Mediterranean. Some older Sicilian churches have inscriptions carved in Greek, Arabic and Latin on their walls.
posted by homerica at 5:38 PM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


And on the American dialects of Italian, Wikipedia has a nice entry ("Siculish").
posted by homerica at 5:44 PM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I vote for "cudzupee" being a Sicilian variant of "Khristópsomi," or "Christ's bread," the traditional Easter baked good served up in Greece.

The Sicilian version's name cuddura is actually derived directly from xολλούρα-kolloura, Greek for crown (?) or bun (referring to the most basic, round version of this pastry), so it's both the pratice/object and its name that testify to the specific Hellenic origin.

The meaning/etymology of the Calabrian cuzzupe is less clearly documented: some give cuzzupa = pupazza = doll, while others see it derived from the Greek koutsoupon, apparently meaning... either horn/croissant or circular-something (but I'm not finding much substantiation of either - actual hellenophones: please advise).
posted by progosk at 1:53 AM on November 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


My Sicilian/North Jersey by way of Brooklyn family has almost gotten into fistfights over gravy or sauce.
posted by kinetic at 5:19 AM on November 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


monarchist France was strongly centralised for some time, which is why languages like Occitan were suppressed virtually to extinction and the French language was pretty thoroughly homogenised (at least until France colonised parts of Africa and the Americas).

For which see the 1539 Ordinance de Villers-Cotterêts, and the 1635 l’Académie française. Not sure they were that effective in changing the speech of the regional population. In any event, there's a good discussion of dialects and the revolution here.

(All my years in New Jersey I only heard the cheese referred to as the monosyllabic "Muzt".)
posted by BWA at 8:53 AM on November 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Of course, also (though somewhat differently): baloney!
posted by progosk at 11:47 AM on November 7, 2015


Which makes sense, if you have ever made your own brown gravy it is essentially the same thing. Except you wouldn't put it on pasta.

Au contraire. I love brown gravy on egg noodles. And what are noodles but pasta?
posted by Splunge at 2:13 PM on November 7, 2015


I love this conversation so much. I grew up in New Haven and heard so many of these pronunciations. I'm in the PNW now and I miss it so much!!
posted by Charles_Swan at 2:39 PM on November 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


I also love this thread. Growing up these words were what I was raised to speak. As well, my grandmother also spoke Yiddish. She was a garment worker and worked with Jewish and Italian people almost exclusively most of her life. It was always fascinating to hear grandma speak a combination of Sicilian Italian, Yiddish and English when on the phone with her friends. That, my friends, is multiculturalism in a snapshot. She told me to go to sleep by saying, gey schulffen. Good advice, grandma.
posted by Splunge at 4:16 PM on November 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


And then there's the Italian-American community of Nonatum, Massachusetts, that pretty much has its own language! Seems more of a polyglot than a holdover, though.

According to Lake Talk, a mush (pronounced moosh) is a man, a jival is a girl, and a quister jival (quis-tah jiv-il ) is a pretty girl.

Popped up in my feed today.
posted by Miko at 7:36 AM on November 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


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