So its a little funny Curcio identifies so strongly as an
Italian as well. After all, he doesnt speak the language, save for a hundred words
or so. His parents were first-language English speakers. But since both Joes mother
and father grew up in Italian-speaking households, Curcio was raised with a code-switching
blend of English and Italian that makes him a distinctly Brooklyn Italian-American.
That code-switching is the subject of Curcios new book,
Ah-Shpet: 101+ Words Youll Need to Survive the Neighborhood. Ah-Shpet,
is formatted like a colloquial dictionary, and takes you through the ins and outs of
Southern Italian-English lingo. Buy the book, and next time you overhear someone in the
neighborhood telling some moot-do-day-vom to slow down with their dinner or theyll
get shkod-ol-n-beans all over their shirt and end up looking like a shob-alone youll
know whats going on.
The book is self-published and available on GreenpointMusic.com
($9.99). It makes for a light and humorous read, even if it does occasionally veer into
the politically incorrect when discussing the various groups that making up New
Yorks melting pot. I feel like everyones too constipated with all these
[P.C.] terms, explains Curcio. Twenty years ago, it was okay to make jokes
like these. But as he explains in his books introduction, this book isnt
just about poking fun at his own culture and the cultures around him; its also a
chance to preserve a dialect that is on the way out. Just like the Native American
language Navajo, writes Curcio, the words and phrases in this book are on the
verge of complete extinction!
Comparing the language of the Navajo to Brooklyn Italians might be a
bit of a stretch. After all, both English and Italian are alive and well; its just
the multi-generational, code-switching hybrid thats in danger of going the way of
the dinosaurs. Nonetheless, Curcios pride in his niche heritage endears him to the
reader. Anyone from a neighborhood with a mix of languages and culture, whether
its Italian or Greek or whatever
they get it, says Curcio. So far,
most people like it, and they can relate.
The books inception comes from a series of Curcios
facebook posts in which he allowed his language mix to flow unobstructed. Curcios
friends loved it, and the enthusiastic dialogue that came out of those posts brought
Curcio to commit himself fully to the project. Soon, he was reaching out to Southern
Italian-Americans across the country in cities like Philadelphia and Chicago, and
much to his delight he found that the code-switching of multi-generational
Italian-Americans carried from one city to the next. (Northern Italian-Americans,
interestingly enough, understand considerably less of this neighborhood
Of course, the traditional Italian-American neighborhood is dying
due to a variety of factors; with the massive migration of Italians to New York a movement
of the early 1900s, their descendants slowly but surely assimilated. For a rapidly
gentrifying neighborhood like Greenpoint, the influx of young New Yorkers from all over
the country further speeds along the process.
In regards to that, Curcio is of two minds. He feels some sense of
protectiveness of his neighborhood, and uses the book to casually mention it while
defining a goo-ba-lean. In my day, a goo-ba-lean was more like one of those cuffed
knit hats. Before that, it was more like a drivers or a flat cap. Im certain
if we maintain some level of the neighborhoods heart, even a few of those stupid
Hipster hats will someday be called a goo-ba-lean. Still, Curcio embraces the
shifting neighborhood and tries to avoid the xenophobic side of provincialism.
Weve got a house in the Poconos, and those people hate New Yorkers. So when
[outsiders] come up in conversation here in Greenpoint, I empathize, because I know how it
feels in PA. And so, rather than just defend his culture, Joe Curcio archives it.
It hurts to lose some roots, says Curcio. But