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"101+ Words You'll Need To Survive The Neighborhood"
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Joe Curcio is a neighborhood guy. He grew up in Greenpoint, went to school in Greenpoint, stayed in Greenpoint while attending college in Queens, and then – one day – met his wife in Greenpoint. He was keeping a website and broadcasting radio shows about the neighborhood well before it was the new hot thing in Brooklyn, and he’ll be here long after the hype dies out.

So it’s a little funny Curcio identifies so strongly as an Italian as well. After all, he doesn’t speak the language, save for a hundred words or so. His parents were first-language English speakers. But since both Joe’s 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 Curcio’s new book, “Ah-Shpet: 101+ Words You’ll 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 they’ll get shkod-ol-n-beans all over their shirt and end up looking like a shob-alone you’ll know what’s going on.

The book is self-published and available on ($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 York’s melting pot. “I feel like everyone’s 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 book’s introduction, this book isn’t just about poking fun at his own culture and the cultures around him; it’s 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; it’s just the multi-generational, code-switching hybrid that’s in danger of going the way of the dinosaurs. Nonetheless, Curcio’s pride in his niche heritage endears him to the reader. “Anyone from a neighborhood with a mix of languages and culture, whether it’s Italian or Greek or whatever… they get it,” says Curcio. “So far, most people like it, and they can relate.”

The book’s inception comes from a series of Curcio’s facebook posts in which he allowed his language mix to flow unobstructed. Curcio’s 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” lingo.)

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. I’m 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. “We’ve 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 that’s life.”


Ah-Shpet 101+ Words You'll Need To Survive The Neighborhood    Ah-Shpet 101+ Words You'll Need To Survive The Neighborhood

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