The Reason Some People Refer To Capicola As Gabagool

If you're a fan of The Sopranos, you've likely adopted the term "gabagool" after hearing the clan discuss their love of cured meats every few episodes. If you were to order gabagool at a typical restaurant, you may receive some furrowed brows, but if you're in a region with a large Italian-American population, like New Jersey, they'll have a platter of capicola in front of you in no time.

Capicola, which SBS describes as a "moist and tender" cured meat made from the neck of a pig, is a delicious addition to charcuterie platters and antipasto, and is often served alongside other Italian meats such as prosciutto and salami. While many Americans have had a taste of this salty cured meat before, they probably don't introduce it to their party guests as gabagool unless they're Italian-American. So, where in the world did this word originate from and what does it actually mean? 

The word gabagool was born when a variety of Italian dialects merged, but what it translates to in Italian is: nothing. Atlas Obscura confirms that gabagool is just a mutation of the word capicola, spoken with a very specific accent.

The Italian-American dialect has a complex history

Naples-born linguistics professor Mariapaola D'Imperio explains to Atlas Obscura that Italian linguistics is far from straightforward. The Italian language, D'Imperio notes, was initially a smorgasbord of multiple dialects. Each old Italian "kingdom" spoke its own variation of the language up until unification, when Italian officials picked one language, known as Standard Italian, to make communication easier.

Italian-Americans — those responsible for the notorious term gabagool — speak an Italian that is nowhere near Standard Italian, claims Atlas Obscura. "Instead it's a construction of the frozen shards left over from languages that don't even really exist in Italy any more, with minimal intervention from modern Italian," writes Atlas Obscura's Dan Nosowitz. Regardless of the language's progression, Italian-Americans on the East Coast can all agree that gabagool is capicola.

Over the years the Italian language in America has morphed into something new, and Italian-Americans continue to celebrate their heritage by not always speaking the language, but as Nosowitz puts it, "putting on an antiquated accent for a dead sub-language to order some cheese." Or, of course, cured meat.