Your Grrrs: July 6, 2006

Your Grrrs ... as always, thanks for all of the responses. I always learn a lot from your e-mails. Sincerely, Straka

Don O. on Long Island, N.Y., writes: As an Italian-American, I find your column to be one of the most offensive things I have ever read. I have a sense of humor, but on the heels of a German newspaper mocking European Italians before the World Cup, and then reading this, I have further proof that the insulting of Italian-Americans, and in other arenas -- Catholicism -- are the last forms of political incorrectness in this country. Happy 4th of July to you, too.

Cosmo "Coz" P. writes: You're taking it a bid overboard, aren't you? I'm first generation Italian, raised in BROOKLYN and ... YES, mozzarella IS pronounces "Moots-A-Rel." Manicotti IS not "Mani-got" it's "MANI-GOAT" -- last I knew escarole in Italian WAS Scarrole! You, my friend, have insulted us Italians, making us seem stupid, illiterate and "lazy" (in that we have to remove an ending vowel). Truth is that if I as a Brooklyn native walked into an Italian deli and asked for a pound of MOZZARELLA, a pound of PROSCIUTTO or a head of ESCAROLE, I would be laughed out of the store and immediately "defrocked" of my Italian heritage. Oh and another thing ... my grandfather ALWAYS called pizza A-BEETS-A. What do you say to that? Blows your theory out of the water, an ADDED vowel at the front of the word!!! OH MY GOD!!!!

Ray G. writes: Italian-Americans do not speak this way because they are imitating "The Sopranos," but rather, "The Sopranos" speak this way because they are imitating Italian-Americans. I am not sure where this dialect started, or why people do it. The only thing I do know is my grandparents spoke this way, my parents do and now so do I. We are not trying to act "Italian" or trying to imitate someone. We are simply responding to our environment. My neighborhood included mostly Santamauros, Garguilos, Gambinos, Casabreas and the like. I never heard Manicotti pronounced with each and every syllable until I was old enough to venture out of my community. By the way, my community included most of Staten Island and Brooklyn, and so was pretty large and consisted of thousands of people.

Jerry F. in Richmond, Va.: I am rolling on my cubicle floor laughing! For the past three years, I've been working with a "Soprano-wannabe" and have endured the bellowing MOOTS-A-RELL more times than I can remember! Said coworker wears this annoying habit like a badge of honor for all "ignorant Virginians" to see -- I'M FROM NEW YORK, I'M NOT LIKE YOU BACKYARD SIMPLETONS! Isn't it ironic how the people who are talking the loudest have the least to say? "THE KIDS AND I JUST GOT MATCHING RAZRS," "I JUST BOUGHT THE CUTEST PRADA BAG," "BUSH NEEDS TO PUT A STOP TO THESE SOARING GAS PRICES!" Some days I go home needing a drink.

Diane O. writes: I grew up on Long Island with second generation Italian friends and relatives, mostly from Brooklyn and Jamaica, teaching me to say "Mootsarell, brashoot, mani-got," etc. This was just the way they talked, consistently, and with no swagger. I've since learned better pronunciation skills, but now that I live in the South, you should see how the same words are typically butchered! But they can pronounce "sweet tea" no problem.

Todd M. writes: At first when I read the topic "Grrr! Talkin' Like a 'Soprano'", I was expecting a column on the many Italian and non-Italian "Bada-Bingers" and indeed you did not disappoint. However, when GRRing on a ethnic group one must be careful. All Americans do not pronounce words the same and it is somewhat narrow-minded to assume Italians would. My grandmother was Sicilian and moved to America as a child. We were taught Ricotta was "RA-GOATA" and Manicotti was "MANI-GOATI." I never heard Grandma or Grandpa say it any other way. I get picked on for saying it that way, even from other Italians who don't, but it was how I was brought up and it is authentic.

Alda writes: In order to attain true "Grrness" I assume you meant to call the WhysGuys "Soprano" Wannabes "SopraNOs" or perhaps "SopraNOTs" and your spell-checker just reverted the spelling to the original.

Jeff S. in Taipei: Credit where credit is due. Truly creative column this time. I put myself through school tending bar at an Italian restaurant (15 years ago). This one brought back memories of all those mafia wannabes ordering grappa and 'buca after dinner, just to impress whoever dey was wit. Try that in a Chinese restaurant and you probably get the ACLU on yer but.

Joey The Mongoose writes: Yo, Mikey ... Italian-American slang in the Northeast comes mostly from Southern Italian, especially Neapolitan (Nah boh li DAHN) dialects. That's where the dropped vowels, c's becoming g's, etc. come from. My family pronounces all of that stuff that way. The third and fourth generation kids learned how to say that stuff at home. Then, they took Italian in college, realized there was a proper way, but they feel uncomfortable speaking proper Italian around old-world types so they over-emphasize the slang way. The fact that shows like the "Sopranos" validate their speech patterns doesn't help. Of course, that only goes for the Italian kids. Then there are the tourists, who didn't learn it at home, never took Italian and think that's the right way to say it.

Tom B. writes: Mike, I love your column and read it every chance I get; however, I do take umbrage with your bit on the "Sopranos wannabes." I am a second generation Italian-American and am very proud of the fact, with the emphasis on the 'American." I also say that I am half Sicilian and half Italian, and yes, there is a difference. I do talk that way, dropping the vowels on mozzarella and prosciutto and I say Mani-Got. And when I am making my famous meatballs that my wife's cousin says "tastes just like Nana's," I jokingly call them meat-a-balls also. Even though I live in Florida, there is no mistaking that I am from New Jersey. I don't like wannabes and have never seen an episode of "The Sopranos," but Mike, not all of us are wannabes. Some of us are the real deal. Italians, that is, not "Goodfellas." Keep up the good work!

John G. writes: Did you even fathom to think that we third and fourth generation Italian-Americans were bought up using those terms? It's OK, though, you cannot begin to understand how irritated we get when we hear some whitebread idiot such as yourself say "Mozzarell" as "Motza-Rella." Ugh!

Geno explains: Hey Mike, interesting article. As a first generation It-Am who has spent a lot of time in the Old Country, I add the following: The truncation is definitely a sign of the Mezzogiorno (southern Italy) origin of nearly all these Gumbahs. In fact, more specifically, you can trace most of the It-Am accent to Naples from where millions of Italians embarked on their trips to the U.S. (and many other countries). My grandparents and parents, who came from the Naples area, could truncate very well. The other point to remember is the vowel and consonant replacement rule (Grimm's Law ... the same brothers who wrote down all those fairy tales).

So for example: c changes to g, p changes to b or even v (Compare becomes Gumbah); in Neapolitan (nabulidan) dialect o often becomes u (or oo in English). Ergo, the pronunciation of "mozzarella" in your article is actually very close to what you would hear in a store in Napoli. This southern Italian transposition is similar to the way Spanish and Catalan are spoken. No surprise because of the close historical relationship between the two and the Mezzogiorno's origin and isolation from the northern "classic" Italian.

Add in the fact that by the second or third generation a decidedly Noo Yawk or Noo Joisey accent enters the picture (so to speak). It is a lot of fun to listen to the differences in second/third generation emigrant Italians' speech in their new languages, whether it be London, New York, Sydney, Vancouver or Frankfurt.

The famous names you mention all came into the public domain via the American media using an English slant (first name Frank, not Francesco), so they entered the language in that manner. In the old country, the names might very well have been truncated or at least abbreviated (Cisco not Francesco). And, as we know, many It-Am celebrities' names where truncated (Bobby Darin), or completely changed by the media (Antonio Bennedetto = Tony Bennet; Annamaria Napolitano = Anne Bancroft; Dino Crocetti = Dean Martin, et al.). So, while it may bother you, don't let it "schutch" you too much and just order another "gannul."

NB in Palm Beach Florida: Palm Beach County Florida would survive just fine without tourists -- most of our "tourists" are cheapskates visiting older relatives for free stays and free meals. Think Boca or Delray, which is basically just an annex of NYC. Believe me, after living here for 16 years there's nothing to do but shop or go out to eat. You can't use the beach as the condo commandos think they own it and never use it, but don't want anyone else to, unless it's one of their freeloading relatives.

Ann in Hollisdaysburg, Pa.: While watching some Wimbledon tennis over the weekend, I experienced a tiny Grrrrr at the loud grunt/moans that some players were emitting while playing. Most notable was the tall, blond Russian girl, who had such an annoying noise erupting after every swing of her racquet. After about five minutes, I had to leave the room. I could still hear her from another room -- sounded like a porn film! Good grief, is this necessary? Most of the players did not do this, which leads me to believe that it is not necessary to playing a good game. Another sports-related small Grrrr goes to the World Cup contenders who milked every trip, fall, or collision into a life-threatening injury. Such writhing and moaning until they got the attention they wanted … then magically cured to immediately continue play (major eye roll here). I guess these mechanisms are just “part of the game.”

Ann E. writes: Mike, I thought perhaps you were being somewhat neurotic over the slurping and crunching of popcorn by fellow moviegoers. However, after attending the movie "Click" this weekend, I must say, that you are right on! The family of six behind us sounded like a starving pack of wild dogs. With the free popcorn bucket refills, we were treated to a symphony of slurping and slobbering throughout the movie. If that wasn't bad enough, one of the munchers in the seat behind me felt it necessary to tap dance and rub his squeaky patent leather gym shoes together during the entire film. Surely my dirty looks and audible comment about using a remote control to shut this kid off would have prompted his mother to tell her son to stop. Sadly, she was preoccupied with resting her gnarly bare feet on the back of the seat beside me.

Jen in Iowa writes: This may seem insignificant and petty, but I've found that one of my ever-increasing grrrrrrs centers around how fast credits speed by at the end of a TV show. In the "good old days," one could read the credits at the end. Now they zip by as if all the people who worked on that show are insignificant. What a slap in the face to the people who put in long hours to make that show happen.

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