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Find out how New Jersey Italians turned capicola into 'gabagool'

Written by
Dan Q Dao

From the trashy (Jersey Shore) to the classy (The Sopranos), there's no un-hearing that unmistakable New Jersey Italian accent, what with its drawn-out vowels, dropped consonants and downright head-scratching pronunciations. And while many Italian-Americans don't speak a lick of the language, even the most far-removed know the most iconic foods (and say them in a very specific way): proscuitto becomes pro-shoot and mozzarella is mut-za-dell. Today, Atlas Obscura has a fascinating look at how capicola (another cured meat) morphed into gabagool.

Linguistic experts who have explored this intersection of language and food suggest that the distinctive, exaggerated pronunciations have to do in part with the regional dialect of Italian immigrants who arrived in the U.S. prior to World War I. before the northern, now-standardized version of the language was applied to all of Italy. More than 80 percent of Italian-Americans today can trace their roots to the southern half, where the Italian was influenced by nearby northern Africa, and where you might actually hear someone ordering "mutzadell" today in Sicily or Calabria.

The other part of the linguistic transformation has to do with Italian simply being such a rhythmic, almost musical, language. Speakers just drop or add extra vowels to improve the ease of speech and eliminate awkward pauses.

At the very least, the full explanation of the change should give you some good cocktail chatter next time you're passed a meat and cheese plate. Find out more at Atlas Obscura.

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