Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Italian-American slang to Italian: scooch > scoochamend > scocciamento > scocciatore

Today I came home from work to hear from my eldest daughter that my Italian-American mom had called my youngest son a "scoochamend". He then began repeating it to everyone all day, as 2-year-olds are wont to do.

That’s a word I’ve been hearing since I was a kid. It means that someone is a pain in the butt, but I had no idea what it was in standard Italian. So I figured that I’d try to figure it out...

Figuring out the words I had been hearing growing up in my Italian-American household was always a fun part of learning Italian for me. When I first realized that when I disparagingly called someone medigan because they put ketchup on pasta, I was really just calling them americano, or "American", or that my parents’ favorite swear word fangul was actually a modified and abbreviated version of standard Italian's vaffanculo, I was hooked on pinning down what exactly the things I heard at home meant.

So the first step for today's word was to try to spell it. Italian-American slang can be hard to pin down, given the various spelling variations from the original Italian. So I just started by Googling what it sounded like; Googling "scoochamend" only got me to an Urban Dictionary definition of "scooch’a dement", which didn't provide get me anywhere near the original or anything else helpful.

However, that Google search also suggested that I look up "scooch a menz", which took me to this nice little dictionary of American Italian. And there I found it: the original Italian is scocciamento.

OK, so what does that mean? According to this thread in the WordReference forums, it doesn’t mean anything in modern Italian, so it probably comes from a dialect (the fact that there’s a restaurant in Naples called Che Scocciamento ("What a Pain") has my money on Neapolitan, which also rings true for me personally as my mom's side of the family is from Naples).

The word in standard Italian would be scocciatore, which means, unsurprisingly, "pain in the ass". The root of all this is the verb scocciare, which means "to annoy".

So the next time one of my kids is being a scooch, I’ll actually be able to tell them where that word comes from.

Postscript: In looking this up today, I came across another one that I’d never been able to pin down in standard Italian: using something that sounded like "ba-kowz" to refer to the bathroom.  Seems this doesn’t come from Italian at all… it’s a bastardization of "back of the house" from back when Italian immigrants first got here and bathrooms were back there.  My mom even confirmed that, saying how when she was a kid in the 1940s, they had an outhouse in back of their house.  She then proceeded to colorfully describe what part of their bodies they would freeze off when they had to go in winter...

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