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Spell my mother's frustration!
December 23, 2009 10:27 AM   Subscribe

How do you spell the Italian-Americanisms my Mom used to yell at us when we were kids?

For Christmas, I'm compiling a humorous list of things my mother used to yell at my brother and me when we were children. Her father was Italian, so a fair amount of these things are Italian-Americanisms like, "Oh, Madonna!" My question is, how do you spell the word pronounced like "stoonad," as in, "damn idiot?"

If you can think of things your own Italian-American parents used to mutter in frustration, please feel free to share. I'm sure there are many common things my mother used to say that I've forgotten.
posted by houseofdanie to Human Relations (43 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
 
A Sicilian pronunciation of stonato?
posted by decagon at 10:35 AM on December 23, 2009


My mother used to use a word that sounded like "gotsi" as an adjective meaning something like "stupid, worthless."

When I was ten, I used the same word in front of my grandparents, who told me on no uncertain terms never to say that word, and refused to tell me what it meant.

My father used to insist that a phrase that sounded like "doosi pots" meant "you are crazy" but I've never found that one elsewhere.

We also use a word that sounds like "shingots" to mean "disheveled, messy" or even "shitty" and I've had that one confirmed by other Italian-Americans, but no idea how it's spelled or its origin. Now that I think of it, I wonder whether it's etymologically related to "gotsi."
posted by gauche at 10:45 AM on December 23, 2009


Isn't it hilarious how all of us a few generations down only know how things sound? My childhood nickname (and if you want to know, what almost my entire family STILL calls me a variant of) was "Gootz", a shortened form of what sounded like "Gagootz." My mother told me it was the Italian word for a squash. I found out last year that the word is "cacuzza," and that it's a slang term for someone who's a little slow. Thanks, Mom!

Decagon, thank you! I wonder if that's it.
posted by houseofdanie at 10:52 AM on December 23, 2009


This is a reasonably good resource.

Che cazz' is "what the fuck" (literally, "what the penis") so I can imagine why a grandparent wouldn't want a grandchild saying it!
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:56 AM on December 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


This will probably help.
posted by neroli at 10:57 AM on December 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


A "c" sound in standard Italian ---> a "g" sound in Sicilian Italian. So "cazzo" sounds like "gotso". See also Tony Soprano's favorite cold-cut, which he pronounces "gabbagool"; it's spelled "capicolla".
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:59 AM on December 23, 2009


And "doosi pots" is certainly a version of "Tu sei pazzo."
posted by neroli at 11:09 AM on December 23, 2009


My in-laws also say shingots, and have a few other ones: trying to spell phonetically, I have no idea what's correct or official

Shtort - basically means "a little off" or lopsided.

Shkum-bahd-EEE - embarrassment - usually class or socio-economic related: "I felt schkumbahdee showing up at the wedding in a t-shirt."

KACK-ee-yahRHONE Someone who's always talking (which, as Italian-Americans, describes ALL of my in-laws)

minATES - The pile of whatever is on the floor after you sweep, before grabbing the dustpan.

mopPEEN - a dishcloth, or any small towel.
posted by jalexei at 11:09 AM on December 23, 2009


HEY! A thread after my own heart! I thought the word was "Stunada" - as in "not too bright" or out of it.

We also had (phonetic pronounciation): yashadool meaning heartburn, something that sounded like "Putana - feese a dumati" which apparently was some insult about the face of your mother is like a whore's (Grandpa said that and we were told not to repeat it) and the "malocchio" or evil eye.
posted by Mysticalchick at 11:11 AM on December 23, 2009


Neroli and Sidhedevil, thank you! That's very enlightening. This seems to have been very much an oral tradition. Thank heaven for the 'net.

As for the Sopranos reference... well, my mother's father was very much of that culture, only in 1940's Philly, not present-day New Jersey. My father (the son of a Romanian Orthodox priest) got his mind blown when he was asked to address a wedding invitation to someone called "Jimmy the Blonde." Sicilian-American indeed.
posted by houseofdanie at 11:17 AM on December 23, 2009


Thanks, Sidhedevil. That's all helpful information.

Jalexei: I know I've heard shkumbadee before.

Houseofdanie: this is a great question. Thanks for asking it.
posted by gauche at 11:17 AM on December 23, 2009


Thanks for that list, neroli - I recognized a bunch of others, and it looks the some of the meanings have drifted a bit amongst my wife's family.
posted by jalexei at 11:18 AM on December 23, 2009


Hah! Am I talking too much in my own question? You people are cracking me up! Yes, as my mother's daughter, I'm required to always have a "mopine" on hand in the kitchen, and I think the kitchen witch is is borrowed from some other culture to guard against the malocchio.

The one I still can't stand is the announcement that she's heading to the bathroom to "go pisciare." (PEE-shod) Just ew.
posted by houseofdanie at 11:22 AM on December 23, 2009


IANAI but I think decagon's got it right, you're remembering a form of stonato. This page and the one Sidhedevil and neroli linked mention a variation "stunad" or "stunare" - meaning idiot, moron, or out of tune - and say it's pronounced stoo-nod or STOO-nahd.

No clue on any of the other ones but google searches for "Italian Slang" or "Italian Insults" pull up a lot of results. Check out about.com's Italian slang dictionary. There's an "adult" version as well.
posted by radiomayonnaise at 11:28 AM on December 23, 2009


Something like, "e setten ded e estui bacci mud", which I'm told translates loosely to "I sat down and rubbed my face on the wall". You say it when you want to call someone out for not offering you food or drinks when you visit their house - it's terribly insulting in Siciliadelphian culture to not offer something to a guest.
posted by Citrus at 11:28 AM on December 23, 2009


My Italian mother (not my mother, my Italian-American neighbor who treated me like her own) used to say "jahzdoo gweest" (jesus christ?).

What dialect of Italian could this (probably botched) transcription corresponds to?
posted by zippy at 11:29 AM on December 23, 2009


I hear "gazzi" or "gotsi" from my Italian-American coworkers, always as a derogatory term and never to anyone's face. When I ask what it means, they get evasive, but context makes it pretty clear I should never repeat it.
posted by Countess Elena at 11:36 AM on December 23, 2009


Oh, I can't forget "Faccia brut", meaning "ugly face". Good as a cheap putdown, or as an exclamation.
posted by Citrus at 11:41 AM on December 23, 2009


Can I tag on? I've always heard of "King of the ba-cah-zoe" which was supposed to mean "King of the Toilet/Bathroom" anyone heard of this? I've never been able to find it in the Italian dictionary, it might be two words. The ba is like in bat, the cah like "ah" and zoe like toe. That's as best as I can remember and describe it.
posted by geoff. at 11:46 AM on December 23, 2009


My aunt in Montreal has some Italian-Americanisms that I find particularly amusing. Dan-jer-row-zo which is meant to mean dangerous (pericoloso is the actually italian word). And "Cake-ah" for, you guessed it, cake. My cousin was also fond of saying that no one wants to jockey with him. It was only after several years that I understood that he was referring to giocare, which means to play.

Jalexi, chiacchieroni is a word that my gran is also fond of using, usually to describe chronic gossipers. Glad to see that one hasn't changed much in pronunciation, it's quite a fun word to say!
posted by directnine at 12:04 PM on December 23, 2009


"King of the ba-cah-zoe" which was supposed to mean "King of the Toilet/Bathroom" anyone heard of this?

My guess is that it is an Italianization of the English word "backhouse," which means "outhouse or privy." It doesn't correspond to any Italian word or words I can think of.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:14 PM on December 23, 2009


Thank you for this thread. Thanks to you, I've just figured out that what my dad always used to mutter was actually "va fan culo", which the internet colorfully describes as "the Italian F-bomb". Yessssss!
posted by sarabeth at 12:15 PM on December 23, 2009


The term "backa-house" was often used in my family.

Man, there's got to be a linguistics thesis lurking in the recombination of Italian dialects when the immigrants made it to the New World and were all lumped in together.
posted by gauche at 1:37 PM on December 23, 2009


I also had a similar ask me once.

Good luck with your book, it's a great idea!
posted by NoraCharles at 1:38 PM on December 23, 2009


Buon natale to all the chooches here on MeFi.
posted by fixedgear at 2:06 PM on December 23, 2009


My Italian friend's mom has a bit of a potty mouth. If my friend yells, for instance, "Maaa! Where are the car keys!?" her mom will answer, "Mezzo lanche!" (MET-so LAN-ky), which they tell me means "between my legs!"
Nice one, Ma.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 2:37 PM on December 23, 2009


My Italian girlfriends when I was kid taught me something that sounded like "fangool" was a very bad word. Also learned "stoonad" from them, meaning dummy.

Hexatron's wife
posted by hexatron at 3:14 PM on December 23, 2009


Thanks for this thread! I too, had a mupeen (dishtowl) and (KACK-ee-yahRHONE) - and this from Citrus:

"Something like, "e setten ded e estui bacci mud", which I'm told translates loosely to "I sat down and rubbed my face on the wall". You say it when you want to call someone out for not offering you food or drinks when you visit their house - it's terribly insulting in Siciliadelphian culture to not offer something to a guest."

...is a line on a Lou Monte album (Peppino the Italian Mouse, I think) that was on in heavy rotation in our house.

My grandfather would also shake his hand at us, flat-palmed and rocking it a bit, and threaten to give us baccalĂ  - which as I understand it, is to hit us with a dried fish. Or, he'd threaten to throw us in the "bunyadole", which meant bathtub, though I know bagno is bath - so I don't get his variation. And, charming man that he was, would call us melanzana (eggplant) if we were being stupid.
posted by peagood at 3:16 PM on December 23, 2009


I couldn't resist. Peppino is on the receiving end of a lot of the exclamations that used to fly around the Lucci house, including "bunyadole": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V57hP7Ipjw4"> Peppino!

(And thanks, I'm off to search for that. I must own it again. My grandma used to make these cookies that I hated - and my mother still does - they're called something like "COOCH-i-dahd-eez", and I'd smash them flat and hide them in the record sleeve, then scatter the crumbs later after it had dried out. When we moved in my fifth grade year, my mom found the greasy and falling apart album and scratchy old record and threw it out.)
posted by peagood at 3:23 PM on December 23, 2009


Or, he'd threaten to throw us in the "bunyadole", which meant bathtub, though I know bagno is bath - so I don't get his variation.

Probably a Calabrese variant of the standard Italian "bagnarola" = "bathtub" or "washtub".

Also above, "scumbari" means "out of place" (both literally and figuratively), and again you're getting the Calabrese "d" for "r".
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:38 PM on December 23, 2009


I remember a lot of calling up Santa Lucia, patron saint of light or lights. "O mama luch" or "O santa luch" usually with a slap on the forehead and meaning, "What, are you blind?"
posted by snsranch at 3:51 PM on December 23, 2009


There was chaDROOL or shaDROOL, meaning idiot, fool, or buffoon. It was dialect for centriolo -- cucumber.
posted by wryly at 3:53 PM on December 23, 2009


I remember "come mangane before we throw it to the pigs". I don't know why it was partially said in Sicilian and partially in English. We still say it at dinnertime.
posted by tamitang at 4:12 PM on December 23, 2009


IAAI, and I find this thread hilarious!

Keep in mind that most of the emigration to the US happened between the 1890s and the 1920s, an age when Italian (more or less Tuscan, that is) was very scarcely used, if at all, in the poorer strata of the population, which are those who became immigrants in the first place, so mostly what you have are expressions from southern Italy dialects (sicilian, calabrese, neapolitan).

eg:
minATES: sounds like neapolitan "munnezz(a)" -- dirt.
mopPEEN: neap: "mappin(a)" -- two meanings: one, a dishcloth; the other, a slap to the face.
fanGOOL: "fanculo", short for "vaffanculo" -- literally: go fuck someone in the ass.
CHOOch: "ciuccio" -- neap. for "donkey" (meaning: not very bright)

keep 'em coming!
posted by _dario at 4:14 PM on December 23, 2009


No one in my family for as far back as I know is Italian, and my dad was always screaming fanculo at people, with the hand gesture.

Italian is for everyone!
posted by winna at 4:50 PM on December 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


And, charming man that he was, would call us melanzana (eggplant) if we were being stupid.

Just to unpack this a bit, this is racist as well as rude--he wasn't comparing little peagood and peagood's cousins and siblings to eggplant (a/k/a aubergine); he was comparing them to black people. "Melanzane" (also "mulignani" in Siciliano, sometimes shortened to "muli") is an Italian-American slur for "black person."

I say this not as a postmortem critique of peagood's grandfather, but for general information, future embarrassment avoidance, etc.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:18 PM on December 23, 2009


Thank you, all - and yes, my grandfather would be Calabrese and there was a reason All in the Family was his favourite show. I'm also remembering a few other choice things he'd say, but I'm SURE they're not to be repeated - one sounded like DITsoon?

Not to sidetrack too much, but he had three daughters, and none were allowed to get married until they were 22. They each married to whomever was on the hook at 22, and with each one, he ranted and raved and we never heard the end of it until he died. The oldest married a Sicilian (um...hence most of the slurs, I understand there are issues with Sicilians), the next a Pole, the third an Irishman. And the story goes that each time, he thought the world would end. Many of the nicknames reserved for us grandkids, while most times delivered with love, would be based on our fathers' heritage - but he never embraced any of our fathers and we sure knew about it.

But back on topic -- I'm also remembering that if it was chilly outside, my grandma would say it's "FuffEEdoo" and if we were agitated, or irritated or antsy my mom would say we had "AJ-i-doo".

There was also a name for when I was being hard-headed, but it escapes me. I keep thinking it sounded like testadura - but it's been a long time.
posted by peagood at 6:18 PM on December 23, 2009


FuffEEdoo: this sounds like "fa freddo" (it's cold, literally)

and, testadura is just right: I got that myself millions of times :-)
posted by _dario at 8:10 PM on December 23, 2009


My Bronx-Irish in-laws with a little bit of Italian in them pronounce Mozzarella cheese "Mootse-A-Dell" because someone once told them how to say it like that. He must have won a bet or something. Don't do that.
posted by Nick Verstayne at 9:03 PM on December 23, 2009


Nick: as noted upthread, Calabrese and other southern Italians have /r/->[d], so that actually is the "right" way to say it.... my foul-mouthed Calabrese-American brother-in-law would say that only a "Milanese half-German faggot" would actually pronounce it 'mot-sa-rel-la' ... and don't even get him started on the pronunciation of 'sfogliatelle'!


Thanks, all! this thread has made my wife's morning.
posted by FlyingMonkey at 7:02 AM on December 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


Oh my gosh, Pepino! I used to love that song when I was little! Listening to it just now, the word "mulignane" jumped out at me. It's a verrrry derogatory racial term that would never be used now. Well, at least by anyone who wouldn't also use a term like "spade." Eep.
posted by houseofdanie at 7:26 AM on December 24, 2009


oh man! i want the yiddish version of this thread.
posted by sdn at 9:58 PM on December 24, 2009


How would an Italian-American immigrant who came to the US in the 1920s from the Campo Basso region pronounce gnocchi and cannoli?
posted by zippy at 12:22 AM on December 27, 2009


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