Two Italians on Old Weston Road, August 1961. One from Cosenza, the other from the adjacent town, Rende. Smiles mask the fact that they barely understood each other.
There are a lot of Italians in Toronto. OK, they are in Woodbridge now but that’s because they are peasants at heart and love land (and fear urbanity and miscegenation). They flocked to the city in the 1950s. There were mini-waves before the war but it wasn’t until the 50s that entire families moved en masse from Mont alt’Ufugo to College and Grace. So unlike New York with its turn-of-the-last-century wops, Toronto has an Italian community that can actually speak Italian. Sort of. The immigrants never really spoke Italian, they spoke dialects, some of which are so far from Floretine Italian that even in Italy people from different towns can’t really understand each other. Most of the Italians in Toronto came from Calabria, Sicily, Abruzzi, Puglia, Campagna, and the poorer parts of the north like Friuli. So for the last 50 years you have all these dialects flying around. Add to that the fact that the children of these immigrants have all been trying to sound as Canuck as possible and the result is a linguist’s wet dream: some bastard thing called “Toronto-Italian.” It’s a hundred different kinds of Italian mixed with hoser that sounds nasally and over-articulated. It’s actually very close to Wookie or the argot spoken in Blade Runner. In case you hear a Toronto-Italian speak here’s a guide to words they might throw in to confuse you. All TI words below are spelled phoneticaly. This list is by no means exhaustive; missing are things like streesh, rikyon, meeloonjan, mazzakreest, and many, many more we couldn’t fit: manjiakek—“to eat cake” or “one who eats cake.” Often shortened to caker, it denotes a WASP, or English Canadian, or any white person (re-inforcing the notion that southern Italians don’t necessarily see themselves as Caucasian). coombar—from the Italian compare, which means “godfather,” in TI it usually refers to one’s close friend. In Italian-American coombar is goombah. zi zi—from zia or zio, which means “aunt” and “uncle” respectively, but in TI zi zi often refers to someone who is neither an aunt or an uncle. It is used to antagonize or patronize a goofy guy or girl.
boos—“bus” shreet kar—the “Red Rocket” (a Toronto streetcar) sangweej—“sandwich” mooneez—“garbage” garbeej—also means “garbage” peez e merd—from the Italian un pezzo di merda or “a piece of shit.” Refers to a person, not an actual piece of shit. malokyo—“the evil eye,” a common curse which is easily disarmed by throwing a few corni into the ground. corni—in Italian “the horns” refers to a cuckold (as in he is cornuto, or has been ‘horned’ by his wife) but in TI it is a way of saying that someone is an asshole. It is also a hand curse made by folding your two middle fingers into your palm and extending your index and pinky. This hand curse will protect you from a malokyo if you redirect its evil energies into some inanimate object like the ground or a chair, or some peez e merd that you don’t like. meetz—short for meetzeega, which means “wow, cool” roof—short for rufiano which means “a low-life moocher” mort—short for morte di fame or “dead from hunger.” Can be shortened further to MDF. TI 905ers use this to refer to the skinny hipsters on Queen West. na messa—“a mess,” as in either “wow, what a disaster!” or the exact opposite, “wow, this is amazing!” broot—from bruta or bruto, an ugly man or woman. peechoon—from the Italian piccione, which means “a healthy-looking farm animal” of some sort. In TI it means “a woman” or “pussy,” actually. stu gazz—from questo cazzo, which means “this cock” but in TI is often used to mean “No fucking way!” or “Fuck off!” etc. meenkya—“penis” meenkya stort—“crooked penis” stronz—often also promounced shtronz, it means “a long piece of anything tubular” but most often it refers to a turd. palini—“balls,” but small balls not big balls. manajia ki te mort—“Damn those of your relations that have died.” This is a terrible insult, should be used with caution only in extreme situations. indru kulu—from nel culo, which means “in the ass,” which is the TI way of saying “up yours.” facha di skiaf—“face full of slaps” but really used to indicate a face that should be filled with slaps. mez e gosh—“between the legs” can either be an insult or a horny epithet. Whichever.