So I can always find it and bask in the love, and the knowledge that I accomplished one of my greatest life goals–teaching my kids that I’m a person. ❤
Monthly Archives: February 2023
Filed under Varina Palladino
4.5 Star Review: Novels Alive
And here are the best bits:
Varina Palladino’s Jersey Italian Love Story by Terri-Lynne DeFino is certainly a love story, but not a romance. It is about the love that surrounds a large New Jersey Italian family.
There is so much to love about Varina Palladino’s Jersey Italian Love Story. There were plots and subplots galore in this bigger-than-life, multigenerational family. DeFino clearly made it her goal for readers to understand and appreciate this unique culture. It worked for me. I grew to love the family and each imperfect member of it.
Varina Palladio’s Jersey Italian Love Story is as warm, as fragrant, and as filling as excellent Italian food.
Filed under Varina Palladino
Jersey Italian Vernacular
Disclaimer: This is an unofficial, completely amateur collection of words I grew up hearing and, sometimes, using. It includes research, family peculiarities, and gut instinct. If you’re reading this thinking it’s some scholarly thing, it’s not. I love words, how they came to be, how they evolve over time. And I love my family. Many of the older uncles and aunts, the few grandparents and great-grandparents left still talk like Jersey Italians. Most of my generation don’t, but we know the words. We know how to use them. We just don’t always know why, or where they came from.
Note, this is my Jersey Italian. It’s not American Italian. As with all things, Italians can’t agree on much. Look at Italy and its bajillion dialects if you need proof. I started writing them down when I was a little kid. Now that I’m older, I’m taking it a step further. I want to record what I can before that oldest generation is lost, and the distinct ways of these words goes with them.
Some of what follows is going to seem stereotypical; I’m here to tell you that yeah, it probably is, but they’re stereotypes for a reason. Don’t take that to mean all Jersey Italians fit into these parameters; only that my Jersey Italians did, do, and most likely forever will. I’m proudly claiming my culture. If you find it offensive, that’s on you.
Italian: cento anni!; one hundred years!
A Jersey-fied Italian toast for one hundred years of health, happiness, and prosperity. Often shortened to, chin-chin.
Italian: aciditá/agitare; literally, acidity/agitate.
Indigestion, or mental upset. Agida is typically used to express displeasure with a situation or person, ie: “Stop drumming your fingers! You’re giving me agida!”
I always wondered if Italians in Italy use any versions of these words. Interestingly, they kind of do. Neapolitan Italian—where most Jersey American words come from—reduce (I learned that term from a linguistics video) words from Standard Italian to their more dialectal words. Jersey Italians took it to a whole new level.
Italian: Andiamo; let’s go
When I was a kid, I found an ancient VHS copy of The Yellow Submarine in my parents’ basement. I became obsessed. I watched it until the tape wore out, then kind of lost interest. I caught it streaming recently, shocked to realize the villains are actually called Blue Meanies, not Blue Amoninis. Being Jersey Italian is just weird sometimes.
Italian: aspetta!; Wait!
Also used as a way of affectionately telling someone to be quiet. Or passive aggressively telling them to shut up.
Italian: baciagalupo; best I can find is it’s an Italian surname that translates loosely as “to kiss a wolf.”
In Jersey Italian, it means dufus, or fool. That may or may not stem from the Abbot and Costello (Jersey boys, Asbury and Paterson, respectively) character, Mr. Baciagalupe. He was a barber, a baker, a grocer, a record store owner, a peanut vendor, a chef, to name a few, depending upon the episode, played by Ignazio Curcuruto (stage name: Joe Kirk) a Sicilian American actor. Whatever his role, he was generally slapstickish and buffooninsh. As if J.I.s needed yet another way of calling someone a fool.
Toilet. Literally back house, an entirely American word, adopted and Italianized by Jersey
Italians. At the turn of the century, there was no indoor plumbing, for the most part, but an outhouse, often called a back house.
Bada-bing (sometimes followed by a bada-boom)
No Italian origin
Bam! That’s all it means. And yes, it’s real. Unfortunately.
Bas’nigol’ (the l at the end is just hinted at, in that it only barely prevents the O from fully forming.)
Basil, the herb.
I have no quippy comment about this, so instead I’ll record the old family story about my great-something Uncle Basil and Aunt Mary. He was five foot flat and ninety pounds, dripping wet. She was close to six feet tall and never under two-hundred pounds. She was, by all accounts, the sweetest woman who ever lived, and the undisputed queen of crude. She loved nothing more than shocking people by wondering aloud about the state of her pussy, and how often men handled their own pricks (two of her favorite words.) She delivered these inappropriate bombs so innocently, it was hard to tell if she actually meant what she was saying (she 100% did.) Aunt Mary lived to one hundred five years old. Her last words were, “My asshole hurts.”
Italian: Abbastanza; enough
It means exactly the same in the formal, and the pidgin. Jersey Italian chops off the first two letters, and the last three, because that’s what JIs do.
Italian: bene dire; to speak well.
I always thought benedeeg meant, “Thank God!” I suppose it sort of does, because that’s the way it’s used.
My little boy/little baby.
Italian: biscotto/biscotti (singular/plural)
You might think of biscotti as those oblong, almond things sold in coffee shops from the artisanal locals to Starbucks, but in my world, bishgott’ is specifically the Stella Doro anisette toast you get in the grocery store.
Italian: braciola (plural, braciole)
While braggiol’ is a flat piece of meat, seasoned, rolled up and tied, then cooked in the Sunday gravy, it, along with sausiche (Italian: salsiccia; sausage) is a euphemism for the adult male phallus, for reasons I’m sure are clear.
Italian: abbondanza; abundance
See that exclamation point? When speaking aloud this word in Jersey Italian, it’s always said with that emphasis of triumph and joy. You wouldn’t say, “We had a bondanza of tomatoes this year.” Well, you could, but I’ve never heard it said without that ! It’s more like, looking upon that abundance of tomatoes exclaiming, “Bondanza!”
Italian: ‘u pazzo
The most famous boombotz would be Vinnie, who was the butt of many jokes.
Italian: bombalone (pl. bombaloni)
A filled donut mostly associated with Tuscany, but loved by Italians everywhere. In Italy, it’s also called a bomba (plural, bombe.) I’ve also heard tartfuo* referred to as a bomba, which kind of makes sense as it is a ball of ice cream filled with (typically) pistachios and cherries, but really anything you want.
Sometimes, little kids are called bombloni, kind of like Americans use the word cookie for little kids, typically girls.
*truffle, in Italian.
Whore, prostitute, in both cases.
In Jersey Italian, it’s more often used to call a woman a slut.
Fun fact: Puttanesca, the popular pasta sauce, literally translates to: of, relating to, or characteristic of a prostitute.
A food of, relating to, or characteristic of…yeah. Cool (ßsarcasm.)
The dish itself is fairly new, having made its way into Italian cuisine in or around World War II. One story is, it got its name from the rather pungent scent of anchovies, olives, and capers being reminiscent of the particular scent of a mid-century Italian prostitute. There are some who prefer the story about a famous restauranteur throwing the first puttanesca together for a late-night group of hungry customers who asked him to make, “una puttanata qualsiasi,” or, to throw together whatever ingredients he had on hand. That story seems to go with the linguistic evidence that says the name derives from the way Italians use the word puttana as an all-purpose profanity, sort of like Americans use the word “shit.” Thus, puttanesca might have originated with someone saying, “I just threw whatever shit I had into a pan.”
Squid, typically fried and served with marinara (madinad*).
Calimad’ (also, galimad) is a traditional food item in the Christmas Eve feast of seven fishes.
*Jersey Italian typically drops the final vowel sound in words. In both these cases, dropping the final vowel ends the word with a trilled r with no place to go, and thus becomes a sound more like a d.
Italian: capisci?; (do you) understand?
So common in American English vernacular, “capeesh” is universally understood to mean exactly what it means. Answering, “Yeah, I got it,” is very ‘Medigen’ (American). If you want to be classier about it, answer with the Italian, “Capisco.” That’ll really throw them. It might also get you punched in the mouth for being a smart-ass. We are a complicated people.
Che cazz’? (kay-kaahtz)
Italian: che cazzo fai?; what the fuck?/What the fuck are you doing?
Same in either language.
Che fa ghist’?
Italian: che fa questa?; what are you up to?
I’ve been asked this question way too many times in my life.
Italian: ciuccio; pacifier
In Jersey Italian, a chooch is a big baby. Typically affectionate, as in, “Get over here and give me a hug, ya big chooch.” It can also be a Jersey Italian version of the southern phrase, “Bless your heart, but…” as in, “Hey, chooch! Never use canola oil instead of olive for making cutlets.”
Italian: come si chiama; How do you say?
The Jersey Italian version of, whatchamacallit, which in turn can be used in all manner of euphemism. I thought com’sigiam’ was the Italian word for vagina* until I looked it up for this entry.
*note, a word I never used until my teens, and then only to see my family cringe. Always a euphemism, never the proper word. We called it a “cookie” for as far back as I can remember. You can imagine my horror when I heard my best friend in second grade was being sent to the principal’s office for crushing JoAnn Venzano’s cookie.
Italian: cornuto, also corno, cornicello, or cornetto
A cornoot is the horn made out of silver or gold, sometimes red (carnelian) seen hanging from Italian necks, and rearview mirrors everywhere. A cornoot is used to ward off the evil eye (mal’yoik). Don’t quote me on this, but I believe this all comes from the “devil horns” sign (index finger and pinky raised) we use as a warding gesture (ma’cornoot, or, mana cornuto, in Italian). Many think that horn we wear is a bull’s horn, but no. It’s the devil’s horn. How that wards off evil, I’ll never understand. I imagine it came from a time more distant than the rise of Christianity, and it, along with so many other traditions, came from an earlier, pagan past. Etruscan, maybe. Or Greek. Like I said, we are a complicated people.
Italian: culo; butt, buttox, ass
The “i” makes it diminutive, like the “deel” in pishadeel, thus adults don’t have culi’s or peshadeels, only little kids do. Unless you’re making fun of someone, which Jersey Italians tend to excel at.
Italian: essere stupido; to be stupid.
By now, you get the drill on the hows and whys of pronunciation, unless you’re e’stupeed.
Italian: facia brutta; ugly face
While it can be used as an insult, it’s also used affectionately when the face in question is undeniably beautiful. Italians are nothing if not passive aggressive, even in their love. It could also be a “don’t tempt the fates” sort of ward, like knocking wood.
Italian: Famiglia, family
Used for loving, sometimes dramatic emphasis when English just doesn’t cut it.
Italian: vai fa Napoli; literally, Go to Naples!
Go to hell!
In Jersey Italian, it can mean “go to hell!” Considering my people are Nap’letan’, I should find this more insulting than I do. Apparently, it’s not Naples itself considered hell enough to make into a curse, but the extreme poverty in Naples at the end of the 19th and into the early 20th century that had many southern Italians and Sigilian’ (sij-lee-an, aka: Sicilians) seeking better horizons in the United States. Many, if not most, Italian Americans have roots in Southern Italy and Sicily.
Fanook/Finocchio is also a derogatory term for homosexual. There doesn’t seem to be any definitive reason why homosexual men are “fennel.” Italians have a lot of food words that are also insults. The best explanation I’ve seen for this one goes way back to the Middle Ages slang use of finocchio to refer to a silly, mean, treacherous, worthless, despicable man. It’s not a far stretch to figure out how that transition went.
Interestingly, fennel, as in the bulb eaten for digestive purposes after a big meal, is pronounced, in my family, fanoik (fan-oy-k), while the derogatory slang for homosexual is fanook. I never put the two together, and I guess that explains the need for different pronunciations. “Hey, Uncle Gaggutz! Pass the fanook!” could totally ruin Thanksgiving.
From the Italian, vai fare en culo; literally: go do it in the ass.
Fuck!/ Fuck you!/ Go fuck yourself!
These go by degrees, the first a strong, but comparatively mild expletive, the second being more heated, while the third is when there is usually a shoe flying at you as well. (Italian mothers and grandmothers are especially notorious for their shoe-throwing skills, much like Ninja with their shuriken.)
Italian: finito!; finished!
While this can also be used in a triumphant way, as in you finally finished all the laundry, it’s more typically said angrily, accompanied by a brushing off of the hands—twice, no more or less—and walking away. No shoe will be thrown, in which case, you’re in real trouble.
Wholly Italianized American. Literally, Fruit of the Looms, and what one calls underwear, no matter the brand.
No Italian origin.
You know this one…Forget. About. It. Say it out loud the Jersey Italian way. Now the actual, English words. Yeah, you get it. While probably the most stereotypical of all American Italian phrases, it is so for a reason. It’s real. Sadly, seriously real.
This is cool:
Italian: capo tosto; hardhead.
This one typically accompanied by a smack up-side the head, just to make sure the point’s been made.
Italian: capo rosso; redhead
Strangely enough, this one doesn’t seem to have any insult intended. Shock me.
So gaba/capo = head. Obviously. But there’s the third word:
An Italian, salted meat. It can also be used to call someone an idiot. (Again, shock me. See the theme here?)
You might think the gaba/capi here doesn’t go with the others, or it’s just a coincidence, but no. It’s not. Gabagool/Capicola is made from the head (capo) and neck (collo) of the pig. See? Words are so cool.
Italian: capo di cazzo; literal translation—head of balls/nothing/fuck
In both languages, it means shithead.
Italian: cucuzza; squash, as in the fruit that masquerades as a vegetable.
In this case, it’s also used as a term of endearment, kind of like the French, “petit chou” (little cabbage).
There’s also a strange phenomenon of everyone having an Uncle Gaggutz. Like Vinnie Boombatz, he is Jersey Italian folk legend.
Italian: cannolo/i (singular/plural) though the most common usage is simply, cannoli.
The C became a G, and the final vowel dropped. Standard Jersey Italian model.
Italian: cavatelli; small, eggless semolina pasta shaped like hot-dog buns.
Cavatelli translates, literally, as “small hollows.” It’s the diminutive of cavato, past participle of cavare “to hollow out,” from Latin, cavare, derivative of cavus “hollow, hollowed” plus the elli plural suffix. (And if you think I didn’t just cut and paste that off of google, I have a fake ID to sell you.)
Italian: cafone; glutton
In American, we’d call someone a pig. Other than changing the c to a g, then the f to a v, it’s the same in either language.
Italian: chiacchierone; blabbermouth, chatterbox
The former being masculine, and the latter being feminine.
Ghistu gazz’ (gee-stoo-gahts)
Italian: questo o cazzo; this or nothing
Don’t you love how cazzo makes the rounds? Versatile word.
Ginzo (hard G)
Shortened form of Guinea, a derogatory term for a person of Italian descent, referring to the Guinea Coast of Africa, and implying Italians are not “white.” (That comes with a whole lot of baggage to unpack, and totally not cool, but if I started in on that, this entry would be more like a dissertation covering the many forms racism takes.)
This is a tricky one, because it varies from community to community. Call an Italian a guinea or ginzo or ginz, and you’ll get punched. But food? We’re proud of our ginzo food. Ginzo Christmas. Ginzo Thanksgiving. There are ginzo movies, ginzo cars, ginzo fashions. Just note, we can use ginzo. You non-Italians, cannot. Unless you want to be punched.
Italian: comare; literally, godmother
Mistress, paramour, a little slide on the side. It was once a given that a married man would have a goomad’. I say “once” like it’s not still a thing; now it’s just not an accepted practice.
Italian: compare; comrade.
Synonymous with the more recognizable paesan’ (paesano), and not to be mistaken with the Super Mario Brothers, Goombas, though the reference cannot be accidental.
Gugliones (or goolies)
In either case, testicles
The pronunciation of G and L together is a Y sound, so it’s goolYOANZ, which now that you’ve said it aloud in your head, you recognize, right?
Italian: giamope; idiot, lame brain
Yet another—sometimes affectionate—way to call someone stupid.
Italian: ciambellone; a ciambellone is a donut-shaped, frosted cake
In Jersey Italian, a jumbaloon is an obese person. The similarity to the word jumbo and balloon in English is probably just a coincidence. Here’s another case of using food words to insult someone. To be fair, many of these words are also used affectionately, like this one. I don’t want to give anyone the impression Italians/Jersey Italians are complete assholes all the time.
Italian: Madonna Mia; Literally translates as My Madonna (the Virgin Mary.)
Typically used as an expletive of frustration, whether of anger or worry, petitioning the Madonna for relief rather than a curse. Madonn’ is an acceptable expression of displeasure when around older relatives who’ll throw a shoe at you for other, less savory curse words.
Italian: malocchio!; the evil eye
It’s a stare practiced and perfected by Italians of all kinds. And Greeks. They’ve mastered it too. If it has ever been leveled upon you, you know it. To counter the mal’yoik, make the ma’cornoot (mana cornuto, in Italian) or, the “devil” sign, by making a fist and leaving up index finger and pinky. Combine it with a very specific spit, that being no actual saliva flying from your mouth, but a very pronounced “too-too!” and you’ll be safe.
Italian: mammalucco; idiot, dolt, buffoon
Italian: mal ne aggia!; bad things to you!
Pretty much a substitute for, “Damn!”
And then there’s…
Italian: male ne abbia il diavolo!; literally, Curse the devil!
It means pretty much the same thing, used by Jersey Italians, but it seems more like, “May the devil curse you!” We can be a direct people. My grandmother pronounces it more like: mannagia di owl. It was confusing, as a kid, because I couldn’t figure out what my bad behavior had to do with owls.
Note, this word keeps more of it’s letters. I think it’s because of the d in dial, like, in French, you pronounce the T in “comment allez vous,” but don’t pronounce the T when saying “comment dites-vous.” (I opted for French when it was offered in school. They didn’t even offer Latin, let alone Italian. Don’t judge me.)
I thought this was a word like backous or frudalooms, taking an American word and giving it an Italian accent, thus, mopeen was “mopping.” It is not. In the Neapolitan area, mappina means cloth/towel/rag. The “a” got dropped from the end.*
*That thing about Italian Americans dropping that final syllable? I learned there is a term for it. It’s called lenition. Cool, right?
Related: A’mappin’ is kind of like ragamuffin in American English, but leaning less towards cute and adorable but very dirty, and closer to the point of being downright disreputable. ie: “Go change those ripped jeans. You look a’mappin’.”
Medigen (hard g)
American. Said with a grimace, and sometimes with a rude gesture, Medigan is what a Jersey Italian calls a completely Americanized Italian, one with no connection to one’s roots. Kind of funny, when you consider that answering “capeesh” with “capisco” could get your smart-ass mouth smacked.
Italian: mezza mezza; half and half.
It’s usually used to denote not good, not bad, but something in between. It’s also used as an evasion, whether to avoid answering in the negative, or to promote a righteous appearance of martyrdom.
“How’s that burst appendix feeling today, Aunt Angie?”
Italian: mingere; to urinate.
This one can mean so many things, but it all comes down to an impolite way to denote frustration, or yet another derogatory way to show your disdain for a person. So, it can mean, “Balls! Damn! Shit! Slut! Asshole!” or it can just mean you’re really pissed off. Or it can be more casual, like, “Minga! You should have told me you didn’t like lasagna!” It’s all in the intent…and hand gestures. Hand gestures can change everything.
Italian: scusatemi; excuse me, apologies
Sometimes whittled down to a simple, m‘scooz or even, ‘scooz.
Italian: mommo; dumbass
I always thought mommo was a shortened form of mammone. In my Jersey Italian world, both meant “dumbass.” Apparently, mammone means “mamma’s boy”. I could see where mommo could be connected to mammone, insinuating mamma’s boy is synonymous with dumbass (kind of like pussy, sissy, or the older term, milktoast.)
Interestingly, for me anyway, I discovered that momó is a minor God of gossip and mockery in Greek mythology. Mamo, in the 800s theater, is the comic relief, a naïve young person, easily fooled but trying to appear worldly.
Mamo is like mammolo, an affectionate way to say child. Mammola, being a girl, or doll, but also a type of violet used to symbolize modesty, or false modesty.
Màmo means “stupid” in Venice.
Mommo, in Roman dialect, is someone not very with it or awake.
Mòmmo, with the accent thingy, is an ugly, scary man (Roman) while mommò (accent at the other end) is a boogie man used to scare children in Calitrano, Campania. In Avigliano (Potenza, Basilicata) it’s mamon, but these last two seem to have a different root—Mormo, a mythical personification of blame.
But you can see how they all somehow connect, right? So cool.
Italian: ammosciato; limp, droopy, wilted
Used to describe overcooked pasta, the general feeling of being under the weather, as well as a rumpled appearance. It’s a versatile word.
Italian: mulignana; eggplant
There is another, unsavory way to use this word, but in my family, it speaks specifically of a certain method of making eggplant, and that’s fried in olive oil and garlic, then salted, drizzled with vinegar and layered with fresh basil.
*moolignan, moon’jahn, or moolie is a racial slur for a person of color. I did not know this until doing the research for this entry. When I asked my dad about it, he got red in the face and asked me where I heard it used this way and told me to never repeat it. I include it only as a matter of scholarly interest.
Italian: pazzo; crazy
Coincidentally, there’s a word that differs only in one letter—oogatz, (cazzo, in Italian) which literally means dick/cock. What it means in Neapolitan slang, as well as Jersey Italian slang, is ‘nothing.’ For example:
“Hey Angelo, what did you get for Christmas?”
“Ma caught me in the boiler room with Tina. I got oogatz.”
Italian: voglia; wish, desire, longing
An oolee, in my experience, specifically applies to food. One could have an oolee for cake, or spaghetti, but not for a Cadillac or a new pair of shoes.
a spank, sometimes with an open hand, sometimes a wooden spoon. This was a hard one to find a direct link to. Paladre, in Sicily, is a boat paddle. Paletta is a small shovel used to clean ashes from the hearth. Both have their connotations. But then there’s palate, a word used to define hits with an open hand, and the extended fingers and palm’s similarity to a pala (spade). The commonality is the “pal”, which is cool, but that’s where my research ends.
Italian: pasta a fagioli; literally, pasta and beans.
Pastafazool’ is comfort food at its best, often made of leftovers, back in the day, beans added for protein. Basically: small macaroni (pasta, to the infidels), tomato sauce, onions, garlic (goes without saying, but I’ll say it for the infidels that call macaroni pasta), olive oil, beans. My cousin says you have go to the deli counter and ask for the end of a proscuit’ to use, but pretty much any salted pork will work. (I hope she never reads this.)
Pepino Soolagil’ (peh-pino soo-lah-jeel)
Italian: Pepino Suracila; Pepino the Mouse
It’s a song about a mouse named Pepino that torments and humiliates the man of the house who can’t catch him, or kill him. His ultimate plan is to leave the wine out, get the mouse drunk, then do him in.
Yeah, weird, but it’s a song that gets belted out at every family gathering. The youngest is always made to sing it at weddings, wakes, Christmases and Easters. I’ve been the youngest pretty much since birth; as it was for the mouse-killer in the song, being made to sing it is humiliating. But the fun kind. I think you might have to be Italian to get that. Like I’ve said a few times, we are a complicated people.
Italian: pesciaolino; small fish
Penis; most specifically, one belonging to a little boy. The deel/ee makes it diminutive. I always thought it was a familial thing, until I finally watched The Sopranos and heard Tony use it the same way my famiglia does. Validation was mine.
Italian: pizzelle; a light, crispy waffle cookie
Caveat—this is not what a pizzeel is in my world, only where the name came from. A traditional, Italian pizzelle is made from eggs, sugar, butter, vanilla, flour and baking powder, then pressed in a waffle-iron sort of thing that looks like lace. A pizzeel in my Jersey Italian world is fried pizza dough, sprinkled with powdered sugar. This was the highlight of the church bazar, every summer before school started up again. My grandmother was always one of the fry ladies, so I got as much as I wanted…from the other ladies, because she knew I was a gavone who would keep eating them until I puked. Which I did. Every year. You’ve never lived until you’ve puked up half a ton of fried pizza dough, and orange punch glommed straight from the machine.
Don’t ask why. It just is.
Scarol’ (ska-role, sometimes pronounces shka-role)
Italian: scarola; escarole
The green, leafy vegetable (delicious with garlic and white beans, sautéed in olive oil,) is also slang for money, like dough in American English.
Italian: schicciarmi lo stomaco; crush my stomach.
A bit dramatic, as usual. Jersey Italians use it for an extreme form of agida, typically caused by a loved one’s bad behavior, for which even a thrown shoe is no remedy.
This one might be specific to certain neighborhoods in New Jersey, as I’ve only heard it among family and friends. How stomaco became gorp is a mystery, though I suspect it’s related to gut.
Related Jersey Italian words are schiat’, and schiatuz, both best understood when used in a sentence:
“You’re making me schiat’!” translates to, “You’re turning my stomach!”
Whereas, “I’m all schiatuz’,” translates to, “I’m tied up in knots.”
Again, this might be specific to certain (very dramatic) neighborhoods in New Jersey.
Skoolamacaroon’ (sometimes with the shk)
Italian: scolare la maccheroni; drain the macaroni.
In Jersey Italian, shkoolamacaroon’ is an item, not an action; specifically, a colander. I thought my dad made this word up, along with many other words I came to realize were part of the pidgin. Sculabast’ (scolare la pasta) is probably more familiar to most, but I never heard of it until researching this.
Italian: schifosa; disgusting, lousy, gross
Related to schiat’, schiatuz’, schiatanumgorp.
Italian: scocciatore/scocciamento; pest/brat.
While a schootch is a pest, a scorchammend is the next level of annoying, the kind that could earn the shoe, or the smack upside the head. The English word, scorch, seems to be involved as a “sounds similar and can lend to the same meaning” coincidence. Schooch (without the ‘t’) means to move over a little. There is a difference, though how that came to be, I have no idea.
Italian: scumbari, as far as I can find, is Calabrese for disheveled, or out of place (either literally or figuratively.) This word sometimes comes with waggling eyebrows and a “too hot to handle” wave, implying promiscuity.
Italian: sedeteti; sit down
No disparaging connotations. Just garbled together in Jersey-speak.
Italian: disgraziato; disgraced.
In Jersey, it’s often used as “dirtball,” as in an underhanded villain with no morals. Though, sometimes, it’s synonymous with scumbari when the level of messy rises above mild dishevelment, usually involving sweat, maybe some actual dirt.
Italian: schifo; disgust
Pronounced skeeve in common American English vernacular, it was an Italian word first. Shkeeve, often used as a verb, must be accompanied by the proper expression of dramatic disgust to get the full effect: “I shkeeve the sheets in this hotel!”
We are also an expressive people.
Statazeet! (sometimes, Statajeet!)
Italian: stai zitto!; Be quiet! Shut up!
If you hear this, watch out for that shoe.
Usually accompanied by chopping at the air, kind of like a cockeyed karate chop.
Italian: stracciare; to tear up; rip
Stracchad’ is different from agida and schiatanumgorp in emotion, while the latter two are in the gut, stracchad’ is in the heart, and in the head. We Jersey Italians are complex creatures of deep emotions, as well as linguistically creative. And dramatic. Did I mention that already?
Italian: questo cazzo!; literally, This cock/dick/putz!
Another imaginative way to say, Fuck it! For some reason, ffangul will get you smacked, or your mouth washed out with soap, but stugots doesn’t. Necessarily.
Italian: stonato; literally, out of tune.
In Jersey Italian, stunad is more along the lines of confused, like: “I just bumped my head and I’m all stunad.” Or, when you’ve tripped over the cat and fallen down the front steps: “What are you, stunad? Didn’t you see that cat on the stoop?”
How one word became the other is obvious, and kind of cool. Very cool.
Italian: sfogliatella; a layered dough pastry in the shape of a shell, with a custard filling.
There are also lobster tails, which are close but not the same, they’re bigger and stuffed with whipped cream, pastry cream, or sometimes cannoli cream. Don’t trust anyone who tells you they’re the same thing. Lobster tails are lobster tails, and svogliadell’ are svogliadell’.
A cured, dry ham typically sliced very thin. Delicious, salty, fatty, and very expensive if it’s the good stuff.
Italian: Che ne dici; what do you say?
Though it’s also used exactly as the Italian it comes from, “kaysadeech” is a Jersey Italian greeting, a way of saying, “What’s up?”
I hate when I hear chefs on cooking shows say ree-coe-ta. I know it’s the “right” way, the real Italian way, but it seems so unnatural to me. Like when someone’s talking about tacos and they pronounce it like they’re from Mexico, but they’re not from Mexico. It’s annoying.
Veni qua (veh-nee kaa)
Italian: vieni qui; come here
It means the same, either way. JI just does the smoosh-it-to-something-slightly-different thing.
Italian: zeppola/e; fried dough much like beignets.
Just switching the p for b. I’ve come to understand that the Jersey Italian mouth is sort of lazy. Many of the changes in words is a softening of sound—like zebbola rather than zeppola. Say it out loud. See how the double b is just a slightly less pronounced sound than the double p? And dropping letters (lenition, remember?) from the ends of words. There’s probably a word for that lazy mouth, thing, but I don’t know it. It’ll be cool to find out, though. Someday.
And just because I can’t leave it out:
The four-finger salute
Called a marameo, in Italian
Put your thumb on the tip of your nose, the rest of your fingers splayed. Now wiggle your fingers while looking directly at the recipient of your gesture. This, my friends, is the four-finger salute. Once commonly used, it’s a rude gesture, sort of like giving the raspberry. The older relatives do it still, which is the only reason I know it at all, because the younger generation doesn’t. Every once in a while, though, it pops up.
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