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From AJR,   March 1999  issue

Tawk of the Town   


By Lori Robertson
Lori Robertson (robertson.lori@gmail.com), a former AJR managing editor, is a senior contributing writer for the magazine.      

It may be impossible to date exactly when a New Yorker--sorry, make that Noo Yawker--first said the word(s?) fuhgeddaboutit. (That's "forget about it," but with that mean-streets swagger of Al Pacino, Joe Pesci or any "Godfather"-esque movie ever written.) But how does one spell fuhgetaboutit to truly capture the vernacular?

As this bit of Brooklyn slang continues to find its way into media reports across the country, its phonetic spelling takes various forms. There are the f-u-h-g versions and the f-u-g-g types. Then you have your geds, gedds or gets, and don't leave out the aboutits, aboudits, or the no-holds-barred aboudids. Even the venerable New York Times has spelled the thing at least four different ways.

What do real New Yorkers think? "Fuhgettaboudit," says Washington Post Special Reports Editor Marc Fisher, an NYC native. What about "fuhged"? "That's more Philadelphia," he says without the least pause. And "fugged" and "fugget"? "That's someone who's never been to New York.... It's not even really an f," Fisher continues, though you need an f to spell it. "If you're watching someone do it...the lower lip really has to curl under."

Fisher may be right about that h. The handful of journalists AJR polled all put one in. But the Philly comment created some division. Philadelphia journalist and former Inquirer columnist Clark DeLeon says changing t's to d's, as in "addytude," is a Big Scrapple trait. But DeLeon pens the phrase "fuhgedaboudit," debating on an "it" or "id" end, for either city. Recently, while driving in South Philadelphia looking for a place to park, he "saw some attractive South Philly girls near a beauty shop," rolled down his window, and asked, "Hey girls, is there anywhere to park around here?" The reply muttered in unison: "Fuhgedaboudid."

New York Post senior writer Bill Hoffmann opts for "fughetaboudit," adding that while the d in the middle may have cachet in Philly, "in the long run the t will win out."

Well, not according to someone with the background to know. James Willse, editor in chief of Newark's Star-Ledger and son of a New York cop, says it's "fuhgeddaboutit." "Back in the neighborhood...181st Street, I never heard the t," says Willse in the best New York accent of the bunch.

But do we need to establish consensus? "It's something where you really do want it to be unusual," says Jesse Sheidlower, a senior editor in the Random House reference department. "You wouldn't want to seek standardization for something like that."

Bill Borders, a senior news editor at the New York Times, agrees. While he's concerned that the Times has spelled it so many different ways, he says, "to institute a standard rule is to say people should use it." Maybe it should be retired, he suggests, seconding a Hoffmann sentiment. There's plenty of ammunition for that argument. Consider this example from the Albuquerque (Albuquerque!) Journal: "Of course, Barney and Barbie (Holiday Barbie, actually) and Beanie Babies are all the rage. Disney products? Fuhgetaboutit."

A bit of a stretch? Well, yeah. Of course, sometimes using the "Bonfire of the Vanities" catch phrase makes sense, such as the Times using "fuhgeddaboudit" as a cover blurb for a January 31 Sunday magazine story on John Gotti Jr., the son of the Teflon Don. But what are the chances the paper of record will make a style rule on this one? Fuh-- well, never mind, you know.