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You’re my goomba(h), my good friend!

Collina Italiana

Ciao everyone! Call your goomba(h)s and gather round…

It’s Luna here with a new word in our series Cosa Dici?!

This week, we’re looking at the Italian American word GOOMBAH or GOOMBA, which is a noun for friend, but more so one of those longtime family-friends. And more specifically, and most often, it’s a male family-friend because the word is in the masculine form. There is a feminine form of the word which we will explore soon, GOOMAR.

So when did we start hearing goomba(h)?

This image shows the celebrities that help popularize goomba(h) in the 1950s and 60s.
Celebrities like Barbra Streisand and Dean Martin’s use of goomba(h) lead to its popularization in the 1950s and 60s.

The word gained popularity back in the 1950s and 60s, when it was used by celebrities like Barbra Streisand and more importantly, Italian American ones like Dean Martin. Interestingly, back then, non-Italians also used this word as a derogatory term for Italians, in addition to associations with organized crime.

What does goomba(h) mean?

Well, let’s take a look at some equivalents of the word…

First, we can look at the Standard Italian, compare, which is a noun with a very similar meaning to goomba(h), which is that of good friend and family-friend, but compare also has another meaning, which is godfather, or padrino. And for some Italian Americans, goomba(h) also has this same meaning.

Standard Italian equivalent of goomba(h), compare.
The Standard Italian equivalent of goombah, compare, retains the same meanings.

But why are these words so different?

As we can clearly see, the pronunciation and spelling of compare is very different. And this actually makes sense! Goomba(h) most likely derives from Neapolitan, not Standard Italian. The Neapolitan equivalent is cumparə, with a U instead of an O, which in its pronunciation, is much longer and similar to OO sound of goomba(h). The final sound of the Neapolitan word is what we call a schwa, which is pronounced like a long, more open A.

Neapolitan equivalent of goomba(h)
The Neapolitan equivalent, cumparə, is much more similar to goomba(h) than compare and is most likely its origin.

Over time, the consonants in the rest of the word have been reduced, just as we have seen with other Italian American words. The C and P in cumparə have become a G, and a B. Along with the complete deletion of the R and an elongation of the schwa until it became the long AH we have today. And that brings us to our wonderful word for good friend.

Where have you heard the word? There are so many great examples in entertainment!

Sample use of goomba(h) in the popular show, The Sopranos.

Well, there you have it. Another lesson in Italian American! Now your goomba(h)s have so much more meaning…

Fun Fact: The Sopranos actor, Steven R. Schirripa, wrote a book called A Goomba’s Guide to Life.


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