Monday, April 1, 2013

You say Potato, I say “Cap-i-co-la.”

When I visit Jersey, I always stop here.

The clerks at the Jersey deli’s where I bought hoagies, cheesesteaks and take-out lasagna would  never miss an opportunity to correct my pronunciation. There’d be a little snicker, a sympathetic nod toward my lack of Sicilian suave as I asked for a half pound of provolone cheese. I wasn’t a student of the Italian language, but I’d always heard that it was proper to pronounce every vowel.  “A half pound of provolon-eh, please.”  The reply echoed across  the deli counter, which was usually higher than my head like a mountain I would never scale,  “That’s a half pound of provalon, miss?  You got it!”  The Modern Italian/American deli clerk who said “mozzarelle” instead of “mozzarella” knew no different.  It was how his Mama and her Mama pronounced it, no vowel allowed;  it seemed a secret language belonging only to them.  Mortadella became mortadelle.  Drop those vowels unless you want everyone to know how Italian-ignorant you are, or so they made me believe.  I’d order the ham, spelled (and pronounced by me) c-a-p-i-c-o-l-a.    

Gobagool .  Say it right, damn it!  You live in South Jersey, the land where a beautiful language has been purposely bastardized and it’s OK, It’s called evolution, an evolution  of the citizens’ free will, driven by ancestors who dropped a vowel – or two or three along their journey across the Atlantic Ocean or many years ago on the streets of New York City and Philly. No one is to blame, not the deli clerks and certainly not me.

Jersey means well.  The lack of vowels has never seemed to interfere with the beauty of the food. At Aversa's bakery and deli, the chicken parm is still fantastically yummy.


  1. You win a prize if you can correctly pronounce "sfogliatelle" :-)

  2. That's not New Jerseyans mangling the Italian language... it's Sicilian dialect. My Sicilian grandparents often dropped the last syllable of Italian (or English!) words. "Spaghetti" became "shpaget." In Sicily they call Cappucino "capooch."

  3. Yep, my husband is Sicilian, and we've talked about that too. The language differs from Italian, but still. . .!!!