Fuhgeddaboudit

Some dialect phrases are so parodied that you question whether they have any basis in reality. Note Irish ‘top o’ the mornin‘ (mostly fiction), Australian ‘g’day‘ (mostly fact), and Cockney ‘guvnor‘ (based in fact, but passé). I would add to this list ‘fuhgeddaboudit,’ a New York Italian-Americanism. You can hear an exaggeration of this idiom at 1:27 in the trailer for the Hugh Grant flop Mickey Blue Eyes:

(I’m confused as to why James Caan is schooling a British RP speaker on the finer points of non-rhotic speech, but anyway …)

‘Fuhgeddaboudit’ seems to have become a pop cultural meme around the time of the 1997 film Donnie Brasco. Here’s a quote from Johnny Depp’s character on the phrase’s meaning in mafia culture:

‘Forget about it’ is like if you agree with someone, you know, like Raquel Welch is one great piece of ass, ‘forget about it.’ But then, if you disagree, like a Lincoln is better than a Cadillac? ‘Forget about it!’ You know? But then, it’s also like if something’s the greatest thing in the world, like mingia those peppers, ‘forget about it.’ But it’s also like saying ‘Go to hell!’ too. Like, you know, like ‘Hey Paulie, you got a one inch pecker?’ and Paulie says ‘Forget about it!’ Sometimes it just means, ‘forget about it.’

Does anyone in New York actually demand that one ‘fuhgeddaboudit?’ It’s a tricky question, since ‘fuhgeddaboudit’ is just a transcription of ‘forget about it.’ And that’s a common phrase in English, after all.

While I’ve never heard someone in New York say ‘fuhgeddaboudit’ specifically, I once heard a man speaking (probably dialectical) Italian in Brooklyn insert the English loan ‘don’t worry about it,’ pronounced rather like dɔn waɹi ba:ɾ et. (Note that ‘bout is pronounced with a:). Although it’s not the same phrase, the anecdote makes me wonder if it’s possible ‘fuhgeddaboudit’ was borrowed by Italian (or Sicilian) speakers, then loaned back to English after accruing hints of foreign inflection and phonology.

But is ‘fuhgeddaboudit’ actually common in New York-Italian speech? Donnie Brasco is based on a non-fiction book of the same name, and a quick Google Books search of the text yields dozens of ‘forget about its.’ That being said, I couldn’t find anything like Depp’s semantics lesson in the book. Has anyone heard an authentic ‘fuhgeddaboudit?’

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About Ben

Ben Trawick-Smith launched his dialect fascination while working in theatre. He has worked as an actor, playwright, director, critic and dialect coach. Other passions include linguistics, urban development, philosophy and film.
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12 Responses to Fuhgeddaboudit

  1. Amy Stoller says:

    I think I used to hear it in a commercial (not this one – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MmmAb8xCtoU – an older one), and then there’s this:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/jag9889/5483202296/

    Other than that, darned if I can remember hearing a single authentic one.

    • It’s funny that they’ve reappropriated the phrase as something of a tourist slogan. My guess is that, if ‘fuhgeddaboudit’ was ever common in Brooklyn, it’s become less so over the past 25 years. (I heard the anecdotal ‘donworryboutit’ very far out in the borough: near Bath Beach).

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  2. jefusan says:

    I live in the Carroll Gardens section of Brooklyn, which, though mostly gentrified, still has a significant working-class Italian-American population. I have heard “fuhgeddaboutit” on the street before, as well as “maron’.”

    • Interesting. I haven’t spent much time in that neighborhood, but I do recall there being something of a ‘little Little Italy’ there, especially along Court Street. So even if it’s somewhat gentrified at this point, it would make sense that there’s still a strong Italian presence there.

  3. Thomas Sprague says:

    I’m unclear on how “fuhgeddaboudit” is any different from saying “forget about it”, which is an expression used everywhere English is spoken, in a non-rhotic American accent.

    • As the Depp monologue suggests, it seems to have certain semantic qualities that differ from the term’s use in other dialects. It also has some unique phonetic properties, as well (such as the low-central monophthong in ‘about’). It’s not unlike ‘g’day’ in this sense. Both are phrases that are found elsewhere but have certain phonetic and semantic features which make them unique.

      • Thomas Sprague says:

        Oh I see. I tend to automatically go into ignore mode anytime I see a quote from celebrity, so I didn’t read that.

  4. pier says:

    “Maron” with the stress on the “O” comes from the Neapolitan dialect ( in Italian “Madonna” as in Virgin Mary). More on my blog ITALPIER.NET.

  5. m says:

    my favorite variation was on a tshirt in Chinatown in manhattan: “forgedaboutit”

  6. Richard LaRocca says:

    i grew up in bensonhurst in the 60’s and 70’s and we used that expression all the time

  7. radar says:

    Coming from a NY Italian family, though not really growing up there myself, I heard many a fuhgeddaboutit growing up, long before Donnie Brasco came out.

    Another one that you don’t see often in popular culture was “not for nothin'” as in, “Hey, not for nothin’, but are you coming to dinner at Ma’s?”