Curse Words Never Sound As Bad In Italian

How sad that today’s kids will never know the thrill of waiting until the sixth time their mother screams their name to actually get moving, then blame it on not being able to hear her.  Cell phones have taken the excitement away. Thank God batteries still die, so there’s hope for today’s youth.   But nothing can replace the way parents used to have to muscle their kids into coming home, using only their voices.  My mother could have been a professional, her voice could have struck fear into Luca Brasi.

As you know, my mom was not like most folks in the neighborhood. Her guerrilla warfare hostessing and the Italian aromas coming from our kitchen gave you an inkling that was true, but the way she called me home left no doubt.

Kathy Pfleghar, my childhood best friend, always got the same sort of slow, drawn out, “Kaaaaathy,” from her mom. If it was urgent, her mom calmly telephoned and asked my mother to send her home in a nice, civilized, TV mom manner.

My mother preferred a crescendo approach – her own twist on Ravel’s “Bolero.” She’d start out sweetly, with a “Fraaancy,” or two. Then she’d call, “Sweetheart, dumpling, lovable, sweet, sweet, sweet!” Then louder, two octaves higher, and with less patience, came “Fraaaaanzes.” Then she’d add a nice dollop of bitterness and even more volume to the next “Fraaaaanzes!”

By the next call, she lost any semblance of sweetness and screamed, “Zoccola…puttana, viene qua!” In my mother’s dialect, that meant, “Sewer rat, whore, come here!”

Thank God the neighbors didn’t understand.

Her ability to go from sweet to serial killer, in seconds, is a trait that runs in many southern Italian women. I think Vesuvius’ volcanic ash contaminated our ancestral bloodstream, causing sudden eruptions of emotion.

It certainly explains why one minute my mother could be hugging me and calling me, “Da best a lilla gailla inna da whole a world,” and the next minute smacking me on the head screaming, “I’mma gonna choke a you when a I getta holda you! You lilla stronzolla.” (You small female turd.) Stronzo is the normal way to say turd in Italian, but stronzolla is decidedly more feminine.

My mom's torture device of choice. The holes made it much more aerodynamic when winding up for a good swing.

My mom’s torture device of choice. Looks ominous doesn’t it?The holes made it much more aerodynamic when winding up for a good swing.

I’m just grateful none of our Anglo-Saxon neighbors spoke Italian.  In her defense, she always said curse words never sounded as bad in Italian as they do in English.

When I finally heard her cursing me in Italian, I’d poke my head up, like a prairie dog, and bolt toward home. I’d yell in explanation to Kathy Pfleghar as I ran, “My mother’s gonna kill me!” Sure enough, she’d be waiting, large metal spoon in hand, ready to smack me as I flew through the door.

She had two favorite spoons, the one in the photo and another spoon for draining liquid that had small holes in it and left an interesting pattern when it came into contact with skin. (Where was child protective services when I was a kid?)

Mrs. Pfleghar would have never done that.

She’d swing and miss as I bobbed and weaved past her, then yell, “Aaaaaaay, ha come a you donda come a when I call a you? What’s a matta…you deef (deaf)?” I’d yell something pathetic like, “I didn’t hear you Ma, we were playing!”

Close-up on spatula handle -- mostly melted, due to too much time on the stove. This is what most of my mom's utensils looked like.

Close-up on spatula handle — mostly melted, due to too much time on the stove. This is what most of my mom’s utensils looked like.

Then I’d continue trying to scramble up the stairs, dodging blows as I went. (I just realized this could be why so many Italians become incredible boxers.)

The good news is she rarely got me — I was much smaller and faster than her.  And once I got home and helped her,  she’d forget she was ever mad, serve an awesome meal and I’d go back to being “da best.” I’m including one of her favorite one-pot-meal recipes for chicken with oregano, onions, potatoes and carrots. I just had it last night and it was great.

If your mom had a unique way of calling you, or a favorite torture device like my mom’s spatula, please share, so we can compare war stories.

Chicken with Oregano, Onions, Potatoes and Carrots

Yummy chicken with oregano, so tender it falls off the bone.

Yummy chicken with oregano, so tender it falls off the bone.

1 package of chicken fryer parts or 1 whole chicken cut up

2 large red or Idaho potatoes

2 medium onions (sliced lengthwise or in circles

5 carrots

Dried Oregano

Olive oil (two to 3 tablespoons)

Salt and Pepper

Rinse and pat dry the chicken and place  in a large 15 x 11 pan.  Slice the potatoes lengthwise, then into 1/2 inch slices and place them in the pan.  Add the sliced onions and peel and slice the carrots into 2 inch lengths and add them too.  Drizzle olive oil over all the ingredients and sprinkle liberally with oregano, salt and pepper.  Toss to combine all ingredients. Add additional oregano so every piece is well seasoned.

Cover pan with aluminum foil and cook at 350 degrees for 3 hours.  Remove foil, turn chicken and let it brown in oven for 20 minutes to 1/2 hour or until nicely browned.

21 thoughts on “Curse Words Never Sound As Bad In Italian

  1. Fran,
    Today I read your current article “Should We Stop Swearing?” And that led me to this hysterical story of ” Curse Words Never Sound As Bad In Italian”. My husband and I can totally relate to the article. Yes, our mothers would call us to come in, and yes, we never came at the first calling of our names. Neither of our moms spoke Italian curse words to us, but they both had “weapons of mass destruction”.

    I made the sad mistake of reading this to Al and showed him the picture of the spatula while eating breakfast. That picture should have been a fair warning of “do NOT drink your coffee now!” Well, even though we laughed at the picture of the spatula, he proceeded to drink coffee as I read your descriptions of the effectiveness of this tool and the chase scenes that would happen. He suddenly exploded with laughter and coffee shot all across the breakfast table. He too used the words aerodynamic, but said his mom’s spoon was wooden! The CPA comment is what did Al in.

    Yes, our generation did grow up in that environment and somehow we all survived it and can actually recall it with laughter.

    Somehow I escaped my mom’s wrath but witnessed her in action with my younger sister. My mom used whatever was near her. I saw the spoon, my mom quickly take off her slipper and use that, and the plastic fly swatter.

    Thank you again for the much needed laughter. I will try that recipe as my mom made something like that and I loved it. I never had a real recipe so maybe this will give me the recipe and taste I remember.

    Marianne

    • Oh Marianne, you crack me up. I am so glad. It’s every humor writer’s dream to make someone’s coffee shoot across the table or out their nose. (It’s good to have a goal.) I love your message and it’s true. We did survive, with our senses of humor in very good shape. Maybe there’s something to all that chasing and smacking! Thanks so much for reading and responding!

  2. Pingback: Should We Stop Swearing? | At Fran's Table

  3. This sound SO good, Fran! I knew I was in serious trouble when I heard “Linda Ann FRIDAY!” When she was mad at the cat, she called her “Flower Ann Friday!” Where would we be without our crazy mothers?

  4. Fran, you are too funny. I love it! I never tire of your Mom stories. I just wish I could have met her. I am also a big fan of your cooking and baking. Can’t wait to try your recipes.

  5. My old Italian grandmother (whose English consisted of a few random words) used to call my mother “Puttana.” I knew it wasn’t a compliment, but I never realized she was calling her a whore.

    • Oh Chas, I’m sorry to destroy the image of your probably, sainted, grandmother. But I think it’s a pet name Italian moms and grandmothers have been using for quite some time. (At least on their girls.) Boys usually remain king. I have a blog coming on that subject.

  6. Frannie, I love your writing and “live and at the moment” visuals. If I close my eyes, I can see and hear Aunt Mary. I never received her hand in anger, but once had my hair and ear pulled for saying “sh*t” within her ear shot. I wish I knew how to say it in Italian, I may not have felt her volcanic correction. Lol!

  7. I love all of your insights as to what actually may be wrong with me, too! “to go from sweet to serial killer, in seconds, is a trait that runs in many southern Italian women. I think Vesuvius’ volcanic ash contaminated our ancestral bloodstream, causing sudden eruptions of emotion.” And perhaps my love for boxing, too! I remember, when I took my first Italian class, finally realizing what all those words my Grandfather used actually meant! My mom was much more even tempered, but I remember a time when I turned on her when I was very young (and apparently watching a little too much “Welcome Back Cotter”). She wouldn’t let me stay up late to watch (yes,I am going to admit it!) some kind of Barry Manilow tv special, and I had a hanger in my hand (I must have been trying to be a good girl and put things away) and I said, “Mom, do you want this hanger up your nose!? (…insert, “like a rubber hose” here). I have never run so fast from the look on my mother’s face! We lived in a tiny apartment but I think she must have chased me around the entire place three or four times. She says today, that it was all she could do to not laugh in my face because I was so young, but she couldn’t let me get away with the disrespect.

    • I absolutely love that story. I can just see littel you running with her right after you! Thank you for always reading and always contributing and for confessing to a young love for Barry Manilow. I will also confess that I actually owned “Mandy.” I think “Laughter in the Rain,” was on the other side.” Now we’ve both been outed!

  8. Mmmm, . . . .you guys are “almost” convincing me to cook up these yummy dishes. And when Mom was “really” angry, don’t forget the sharp twists on the flesh (arm or wherever) sometimes that in no uncertain terms meant she meant business & was truly ticked, . . .LOL! Funny, & great recall Fran.

    • Yeah, I forgot about that. I only got it once when I got lost at the shopping center. It was subtle enough so no one suspected she was hurting you, but hard enough that it really hurt!

  9. Grandma made the best meat dishes…always tender and falling off the bone. The next meal I make will be this one! You capture her essence/personality so well with your references to “Vesuvius’ volcanic ash”, “Bolero”, “Italian boxers,” etc. Your blogs always bring a smile, a laugh, a memory, a lesson and a good recipe!

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