Three times in the last week I’ve seen “welp” in print. Like this: “Welp, now O.J. Simpson thinks Carole Baskin from ‘Tiger King’ killed her husband.”
And this: “Welp, I can die happy now. Chocolate cake stuffed inside this pup-cone!”
This morning, I was scrolling through articles on Flipboard and saw this lead from a publication called Well and Good, an article by an anal surgeon: “Welp, I hate to break it to you but [wiping] isn’t the best way to keep your butt clean.”
What drew me to the article was the “welp.”
Later, when I logged into my Dropbox account, I saw this: “Yep – simply click on the Dropbox bookmark to show all documents that you are tracking in your dropbox folder.” And in an email this morning from an editor I know: “Yep. That’s me in the photo above, feeling safe and secure in my grandmother’s arms.”
Welp, yep, I sure love these little verbal morsels. I thought of my Italian friends with not a lot of English, who might say, “So what the heck is welp?”
We get it. It’s FUBU, for us by us.
One summer a few years after I married into the Canducci family, this guy Lamberto Bozzi came to visit.
Unmarried in his mid-thirties, precise in all matters, he stayed with my in-laws for five days. Back in Italy he was a school inspector, which meant, I guess, he went from school to school to make sure they were doing things right. At that time I had only a few words of Italian. With my in-laws and with my wife, Bozzi spoke Italian. With me he spoke accented, very correct English. I wouldn’t have wanted to admit it then, but he probably knew more about English grammar than I did. Probably way more.
Before he continued on to Chicago, my wife and I drove him around Detroit, showing him the sights. Bozzi was genial and appreciative, if slightly pedantic. What got me was his favorite interjection. So here was Lake St.Clair. “Oh gosh!” he said. And Belle Isle. “Oh gosh!” And the Detroit Historical Museum. “Oh gosh!”
Gosh, he sounded strange. He just couldn’t put the right English on the expression. I wanted to tell him: You really should stop saying that.
You learn, of course, by trying. But interjections, imprecations, slang, and dialect in a second language can be risky. You hear stuff, expressions that are often short and sweet and easily repeated, you learn them, but you can’t always own them the way a native speaker does. When my two-year-old grandson says You farted! he sounds way more American, way more authentic, than Bozzi and his oh gosh! ever did.
So, as a rule, even though my Italian is now pretty good, I avoid a whole array of oaths and imprecations in Italian that I’ve learned. My father-in-law would say, Porca madosca! the way I might say Jeez oh Pete! I can’t say porca madosca or any other porca (porca palletta, porca miseria, porca madonna, porca puttana), or minchia or cazzo or accidenti or dio bono, any of those without sounding totally phony. I might be able to say cavolo (which literally means “cabbage” but as an interjection is more like wow!) and make it stick, but somehow I doubt it. Cavolo is aspirational, within reach, maybe.
Padrone. I was given a pretty stern warning once, to watch who I said that too.
After the Bozzi visit, one year in San Francisco I wandered into Molinari, a fabled deli in North Beach, and asked at the counter if they had poveracci. At my in-laws’ table, it’s the word they used for the clams in the pasta sauce. The ones they used came in a jar, not a can. I was looking for the jar. I thought poveracci was Italian. And it was, but it was slang, and regional slang at that. The guy at the counter looked at me, cocked his head, like, I didn’t quite get that. “You know,” I said, “poveracci.” No, he didn’t know. And I felt like an imposter.
So there are authenticity and cultural appropriation issues here. We can talk the talk, but some of it, we shouldn’t.
FUBU is a term I borrowed from African-American culture, the name of a hip hop clothing manufacturer started in 1992. A brother who wore the brand is quoted in Urban Dictionary saying, “Maing bro, i juss saw some skaters wearin some fubu pants and i quit wearin it, its done for.”
FTBT. For them by them.
In conversation with my daughter the other day, I said something about “giving shade.” She smiled and shook her head. “It’s throwing shade, dad.” I had no business saying it. I almost said casting shade, which would have been even more ridiculous. I just couldn’t own that expression, any more than I can own FUBU or a brother (above), or bae, ratchet, on fleek, I feel you, you go, girl! bye, Felecia, yas! or woke. True dat.
That day in San Francisco I ate gelato twice. My wife and I walked by a gelateria on Columbus Avenue that had Faema espresso machines in the window, one of them identical to the machine I owned. My machine was on the fritz at the time. I needed a replacement part.
I ordered bacio in a small cone, a chocolate hazelnut gelato, and asked the young woman serving if they sold Faema parts.
“I don’t know,” she said. “You’d have to ask Gino.”
“Is he the padrone?” I said, feeling kind of clever.
My wife turned and looked at me, slightly aghast.
The server was unfazed. She said he might be down at the restaurant right now.
Outside on the sidewalk my wife gave me a brief lecture on the denotations and connotations of padrone. From padre, father, but big father, big daddy, big boss; at worst, master. It wasn’t a very nice word. I told her that her father used it all the time. (I’d probably heard him say it two or three times). I thought it was okay.
“Well it’s not,” she said.
We walked down Columbus toward the Tazze D’Oro, Gino’s restaurant, and found him standing across the street with three guys. One of them was Tony Bennett. My wife went a little nuts.
“Tony Bennett!” she said, rushing toward him. “I love you even more than Frank Sinatra!”
One of Tony’s body guards held up a fat index finger, wagged it, and told her not to insult the Pope. Tony said nothing. He just smiled the Tony Bennett smile.
While we posed for a couple photos, I told Gino about my Faema machine, identical to the one in his store window up the street, and did he have replacement parts. He said sure, sure, meet him up at the gelateria later that afternoon.
When we went back a few hours later, he wasn’t there. I had another bacio gelato in a cone.
I was on a mission. We walked back down to the restaurant, thinking he might be there, and poked our heads inside. He was downstairs, the greeter said, having lunch.
“Can I talk to him?” I explained I had a Faema espresso maker. It needed a knob.
He said he wasn’t sure that was a good idea.
When I told him it would only take a minute, he led me to the stairway. My wife came with me. Maybe Tony Bennett was down there, she whispered. The greeter said something in Italian to two guys at the bottom of the stairs. They said something back, and he pointed. “Just you,” he said to me. “Not the woman.”
The two guys who were standing at the bottom of the stairs were still there; not eating, just standing. The room was dimly lit. I explained to them about my coffee machine, told them that Gino had said he could help me out. At the far end of the room was a long table with more than a dozen men seated and leaning over their plates. At the head of the table, farthest from me, sat Gino. He looked up and saw me. I waved. He didn’t wave back. I thought, Well, I’ve come this far. I walked across the room and approached him, leaned down and reminded him that I had a Faema espresso machine that needed a replacement part, that I would be in San Francisco for another day, that he’d said he could help me out.
“It’s the knob,” I said, working a imaginary knob with my hand, “for the steam valve.”
He sat up straight in his chair, turned his body toward me. “Excuse me,” he said. “I’m having lunch with my friends.”
I scanned the length of the table, hoping I’d see Tony Bennett. At least one person would be smiling. It all added up now: the two guys at the bottom of the stairs, the gatekeeper at the top of the stairs, the friends all gathered there together. They had all stopped eating and were looking up at me now, looking at me like what was I doing there, like I’d just asked them the best way to keep my butt clean. And Gino, at the head of the table, miffed.
I thought, Oh gosh! I’m in the wrong place.
I took a step back and thanked him, apologized for the interruption, and backed away from the table. No ciao. No ci vediamo. No arrivederci.
Any of those, I was now certain, would have definitely been out of place.