Tuesday, November 25, 2008

"I Got Your Blog, Right Here"

In Brooklyn, we spoke a variation of English that was all our own. I'm not talking about the way Brooklynites pronounce words ("toidy toid and toid" for thirty third and third). The accents attributed to us by people who don't know better are either exaggerated or just plain wrong. This is not so much about our pronunciation as it is the expressions we used. Some of these colorful expressions have crept into the mainstream language thanks to shows like The Sopranos. For example, "Agita", Italian for heartburn or general stress, as in "This guy is giving me agita", or "Gumare" From the Italian "comare", which means "second mother" or slang to denote a mistress.

There were many more obscure phrases that we used every day that are nearly lost to history. Here are some:

Johnny Pump : A term for a fire hydrant. According to the Brooklyn Historical Society, it was because the firemen of the late 1800's were called "Johnnies". In the summer we would turn on the Johnny Pump and hit the streets in our bathing suits. A tin can was used to direct the gushing stream of water into some poor motorist's open window, of course after assuring the gullible driver that he could pass unmolested.

Hindoo: A do-over during a game. It also refers to a funny bounce in handball. If the ball hits where the wall meets the ground, and bounces back in a slow high arc, that ball was a "hindoo" and not to be played, thus leading to a do-over. No clue as to the origin of this term, but my guess knowing street kids is that it was derogatory.

Not for nuttin' or with all due respect: These phrases invariably preceded some harsh truth or unpleasant message that the speaker was about to unload on the listener, for example, "Not for nuttin' but your brother's an asshole." And I mean that with all due respect.

For all intensive purposes: A Brooklynization of the phrase "For all intents and purposes." Usually used by a "Norm Crosby" type trying to sound smart, but who regularly mangled everyday words or expressions. More examples: "He died from an overdose of wedlock"; "He's a wolf in cheap clothing"; "I might just fade into Bolivian."

Flatleaver : Someone who breaks a previously made plan or date when something better comes up. May be used as a noun, verb or adjective as in: "She is such a flatleaver (n)! Last week she was supposed to go with me, but she never showed up. I can't believe that she flatleaved (v) me, that flatleaving (a) bitch!"

"Right here!": Insulting phrase uttered while grabbing one's crotch. A fully expanded sentence might be: "Hey, I got your cannolis, (grab crotch) Right Here!" A variation uses the phrase: "(Any word) This!" For example, if you were arguing and someone said: "I looked it up in the dictionary", the response using this variation would be: "Dictionary This" with a hard emphasis on THIS. (Crotch grab also mandatory.)

And More:

"Hey, was your father a glazier?!?": Said to someone who's blocking your view

Loosie : Candy stores in Brooklyn would often sell you a single cigarette from an open pack

Sliding Pond: A regular playground slide. (Named "sliding ponds" because they reminded people of how they used to slide on the ice of ponds before playground slides were invented sometime in the 19th century.

Scash-a-bang: A beat up old car on its last legs

Keep Chicky: To keep an open eye (keep guard) while something mischievous is being done.

Skeeve : To totally dislike something or be disgusted by it. "I skeeve that" or "I'm skeeved by him". A gross person can also be called a "skeeve" or a "skevoose".

Fins (Or Finsies): To say "fins" is little like saying "not it". To say it during a game means that you can't be touched, or it grants you temporary immunity.

Lemon Ice: All flavors of ice are called lemon ice. A cherry flavored ice is a "cherry lemon ice".

Tar Beach: The roof of an apartment building when used in the summer for sunbathing.

If you're interested in reading more about neighborhood "tawk", try this wonderful website: Brooklynisms.

Its funny how overhearing one of these expressions (and you don't hear them often) can turn you into a time traveler, standing on the corner, age 12, and hollering out: "Hey Vinny, I got your eggplant, Right Here!"


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

1 comment:

The Whiner said...

Don't forget the place where you can borrow books....the li-berry.