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Black Cadillacs, Big Hair, and Pinkie Rings
Dressing (and Speaking) the Part for The Sopranos
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What is it with this fascination with Tony Soprano and his dysfunctional, murderous friends?! Every week this site guide receives a statistics report which includes the keywords and phrases that visitors to About Italian Language search on. And every week the same words and concepts dealing with the Sopranos are among the most popular. Recently a user send a high priority email about the significance of pinkie rings, of all things!

I realize that not everyone who watches the series or wonders about the details has the advantage (!) of growing up as an Italian American in New Jersey (I've driven on the New Jersey Turnpike so many times now that I'm beginning to think it's beautiful, albeit in an industrial design sort of way), so what follows is an unauthorized, highly biased cultural explanation of what these words mean or where to find further information on the topic.

And before the deluge of e–mail rants begin about negative stereotyping of Italian Americans, or anyone doubts my true feelings about the show, please read this excerpt from one of my recent quotes (read the entire message at: Yo, you talkin' to me?):

"I'm not a wanna–be anything—far from it. In fact, I'm an American of Italian descent who was also born and raised in New Jersey and is every bit as concerned as you are with the deification of a second–rate dysfunctional thug from the metropolitan area whose last name just happens to end in a vowel.

I certainly appreciate your interest in this topic, and I want to point out a few things that should clarify my position. How To Talk Like A Soprano Family Member is NOT a tutorial. Not everything written is to be taken literally!"

Yo Tony, Take Some Lessons!
One thing you'll learn immediately is that these tough-talkin' guys really need Italian language lessons. The pseudo-Italian they use is a blend of mostly southern dialect plus New York metropolitan area wise guy slang with a Brooklyn/New Joisey accent thrown in. Here then an abridged glossary of Soprano concepts and terms:

Bada Bing: The name of a North Jersey strip joint featured in The Sopranos, and an idiomatic expression popularized by wanna-be wise guys in the Northeast as in: "bada bing bada boom."

big hair: A popular hairstyle for women—think teased out, dyed, and hair-sprayed until the hair reaches several inches in height. Considered very sexy and feminine by certain females living in North Jersey and Long Island (note: big hair is not complete without very long fake fingernails lacquered and painted with designs at least once a week).

black Cadillac: vehicle of choice in gang land.

capish: one of the most frequently misspelled and mispronounced Italian words by non-native speakers; capisci in standard Italian, which is the verb capire in the 2nd person singular for "Do you understand?" One of Tony Soprano's favorite sayings before whacking someone.

gabagool or gabagoo: capicola, a type of Italian ham. Pronunciation of Italian words by non-Italians or immigrants to America has a format all its own, as evidenced by this word.

goomba: compare, which means "godfather." Since in small Italian villages everybody is the godparent of their friend's children, when addressing someone that is a close friend but not necessarily a relative the term compare is used. Not to be confused with cumare, which means mistress, and is often pronounced coo-MAHD or goo-MAHD.

marron or o madonn: really "MADONNA" (mah-DOHN-nah), which of course refers to the mother of Christ. At one time it was blasphemous, but nowadays everyone uses it to express surprise or bewilderment. For more, please see Italian Adult Slang, an uncensored guide to Italian colloquial expressions, shocking idioms, hard-core curses, scatological words for body functions and parts, expletives, off-color phrases, and euphemisms.

ming: the word is MINCHIA and refers to the penis.

pinkie rings: (note spelling - it's NOT pinky, which is a color, sort of): necessary jewelry accessory for wise guys wearing three-piece suits. Like signet rings for Ivy League grads, pinkie rings are typically (though not always) worn by Italian Americans of a certain age.

schfogliadel: sfogliatelle, a type of pastry.

sfacim: sfa-CHEEM; Neapolitan slang for semen and equivalent to English slang such as spunk or gism. However, it's also widely used as a term of endearment, as in "Hey, sfacim. Come over here and give your grandmother a kiss before I break your face." The closest American English slang term would be "spunky."

stugots, stugats: the name of Tony Sopranos boat means "this dick" in English. And not only that, it's southern Italian dialect. The original term is 'STU CAZZO; 'stu means "this" as in "questo". Cazzo means prick. So taken together it's obscene. Believe it or not, it goes from QUESTO CAZZO in standard Italian to 'STUGOTS in southern Italian-American Brooklynese. There seems to be unending appeal with this word, as witnessed by the many different message threads on the Italian language forums such as I would like to know what stu gotz means in Italian slang and I still don't understand the expression "stu gazz".

three–piece suits: gangster–wear for men popularized in The Godfather and other mafia movies that consists of tailored trousers, suit jacket, and vest over shirt and tie. A black three–piece pin–striped suit (fabric has very thin contrasting stripe in fabric) would be the ultimate expression of fashion for il capo (head of a mob family).

This list only represents a small portion of what some consider a corruption of Italian words, phrases, and foods. Perhaps as punishment Tony Soprano and the rest of his murderous crew should be forced to a week of eating meals at the Olive Garden. Then maybe the next time they gather over a plate of "macaron" they'll gain a greater appreciation for authentic Italian food.


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