is there a "yo" around here?

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Sun Aug 19 15:08:58 UTC 2012

>From a profile of Salvatore Strazzullo, a lawyer for celebrities, in the
Metropolitan section of today's (Sunday, August 19) NY Times.  Passage
quoted is on p. 6, col. 3.  The story plays up his background as one who
was born and raised in Brooklyn (Bensonhurst) with grandparents who were
born in Italy, region unspecified.

“There are some lawyers who don’t really take him all that seriously,” said
one colleague, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to damage
his relationship with Mr. Strazzullo. Using a Brooklyn-Italian insult, the
colleague added, “Sal’s a bit of a ‘yo.’ ”

While I sit forlornly waiting for the final volume of HDAS -- and the curse
of the Thompsons hangs over Oxford University Press, and will, until it
appears -- I turn to Jonathon Green's Dictionary of Slang as the next best
source.  It defines "yo" as "a young black man, esp. one who deals drugs on
the street", and supports this with citations from 1991, 1997 and 2006.

Meanwhile, I lived from the early 1970s to the mid 1990s in a largely
Italian section of Brooklyn -- Gravesend -- without I think ever hearing
"yo" used in the Times' sense.  I heard a free-range "goomba" once, that I
recall, and "cugine" 3 or 4 times.
I do recall hearing a young thuggish-acting black guy apply "yo" to a
Spanish guy who had tried to intervene in a quarrel -- "this yo here".
A relative who still lives in Gravesend says she hasn't heard the word.
 (Gravesend is much less of an Italian American stronghold now than it was
20 years ago.)

George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
Univ. Pr., 1998, but nothing much since then.

The American Dialect Society -

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