How Do You Say 'Fuhgeddaboudit' in Yiddish?

Seeking a Jewish Equivalent for Famed Mafia Slang

Language Mobster: James Gandolfini helped to popularize “Fuhgeddaboudit” on “The Sopranos,” but the phrase may be more common in Hollywood than in real life.
Getty Images
Language Mobster: James Gandolfini helped to popularize “Fuhgeddaboudit” on “The Sopranos,” but the phrase may be more common in Hollywood than in real life.

By Philologos

Published May 12, 2013, issue of May 31, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

‘What’s Fuhgeddaboudit in Yiddish?” The Wall Street Journal’s Brett Stephens asks in a column in which he concludes that, following President Obama’s Syrian chemical weapons shuffle, the president’s promise to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon has lost its credibility.

Was Stephens suggesting that “Fuhgeddaboudit” is an English version of an original Yiddish expression? Or was he simply trying to say that the unreliability of the presidential pledge must be of special concern to Jews?

Probably the latter, because “Fuhgeddaboudit” has no Yiddish antecedents to speak of. Although the expression, as the look and sound of it indicate, almost certainly originated in New York, and most probably in Brooklyn, it did so, apparently, among Italian Americans, not Jews.

One says “apparently” because Italian and its many dialects — like Sicilian, which was commonly spoken by Italian immigrants to New York — do not seem to have a parallel idiom, either, and because it is difficult to trace “Fuhgeddaboudit” to Italian immigrant culture.

In fact, it is difficult to trace it any further back than Joseph Pistone’s 1988 book about being an FBI agent in the underworld, “Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia,” and its 1997 film adaptation. “Fuhgeddaboudit” occurs frequently in both book and film, and Johnny Depp, the actor who plays Pistone, actually gives a speech about it to a puzzled FBI co-worker.

Of course, “Forget about it,” without its heavy New York accent, has always been a perfectly normal variant of “Forget it.” Yet “Fuhgeddaboudit” is not “Forget about it.” Apart from its dropped “r” and [voiced “d’s,”] it has a more strongly stressed second syllable, generally comes with an exclamation point and has, as Johnny Depp points out, a wider range of meanings, which include, “It’s so great that there’s no point trying to describe it to you” and “You’re so dumb that there’s no point in trying to explain it to you.” You still don’t see the difference? Fuhgeddaboudit!

Was “Fuhgeddaboudit” actually a common Brooklyn or mafia expression before it was popularized by the film?


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • Is Handel’s ‘Messiah’ an anti-Semitic screed?
  • Meet the Master of the Matzo Ball.
  • Pierre Dulaine wants to do in his hometown of Jaffa what he did for kids in Manhattan: teach them to dance.
  • "The first time I met Mick Jagger, I said, 'Those are the tackiest shoes I’ve ever seen.'” Jewish music journalist Lisa Robinson remembers the glory days of rock in her new book, "There Goes Gravity."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?








You may also be interested in our English-language newsletters:













We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.