Bacigalupo-Baciagaloop: The Evolution in Theory of an Italian-American Expression

Rocco'Shop's latest creation - I'm With Baciagaloop - was inspired by a word of slang which comes from the Italian-American vernacular.

Baciagaloop (Botch-a-ga-loop)

It has different connotations.  Some say it means an idiot, a moron or a goof.  Abbott and Costello often had a character named Mr. Bacciagalupe.

Joe Kirk played up the Italian stereotype as Mister Bacciagalupe on Abbott & Costello (1952). Joe's real name was Ignazio Curcuruto of Sicilian heritage. 

 

Others talk about baciagaloop meaning a romantic fool. The great Louis Prima from New Orleans, Louisiana with roots in Sicily once sang a song about this romantic fool, "Baciagaloop (Makes Love on the Stoop)"

Its origins may come from the northern Italian surname of Bacigalupo, which is found mainly in the region of Liguria. In doing some research about the name and this bit of Italian-American slang I came across this boccone saporito (tasty morsel), that just might shed some light. Mind you, this is merely speculation on my part, but please indulge me.

I found an obituary from the New York Times dated December 1, 1908. In that old, gritty, classic New York Times' typeface the headline announces: "LITTLE ITALY MOURNS IL GRAN' BACIGALUP'|Undertaker Who Has Buried 1000 At His Own Expense Awaits The Tomb."  The obit goes on to say: “In the history of Italian immigration in New York there has been no one Italian to struggle from the bottom to the enjoyment of such prestige as did Bacigalupo. In his fight out of poverty and into fortune his name came to be one to conjure with, for it is a matter of the colony's history that he allowed no Italian to miss a proper burial because of poverty..." 

Charles Bacigalupo (His name may have originally been Carlo Bacigalupo) started undertaking at night and shining shoes in the daytime.  For funerals, he acquired a second-hand hearse and rented horses from a local livery stable.  One of his first funerals was for an Italian who had lived in poverty. As an act of charity, Bacigalupo took care of all the funeral arrangements even though it was difficult for him to meet the expenses involved. For the rest of his life, Bacigalupo continued with this charity. 

Word soon got around as to what kind of a man Bacigalupo was, and his business grew as a result.  His funeral parlor at the south end of Mulberry Bend Park (which was located just outside the notorious Five Points neighborhood in Lower Manhattan) boasted a stable of horses as well as "the only automobile hearse" in the city at that time .

 

Mulberry Bend Park New York City.jpg
Mulberry Bend Park, NYC  By Unknown. Public Domain, Wikipedia Commons.

 

Bacigalupo didn't just serve the Italian community either: "Not alone with the poor of the Italian colony did Bacigalupo concern himself. Many an unfortunate white woman found dead in Chinatown was saved from Potter's Field by him, and when, several years ago, the bones of nine Chinamen were disinterred in Brooklyn to be shipped to China, Bacigalupo was called in by the wealthy Chinese to arrange for a funeral procession with 200 coaches.” 

Bacigalupo was held in such high esteem, that the people began to refer to him as Il Gran' Bacigalup' (the Great Bacigalupo).  Just the mention of his name garnered great respect: "...on one occasion a night worker in a more fashionable part of the town having suffered from the operations of a hand-organ man for many mornings cast about for some Italian of importance who might rid him of the nuisance.  A friend who knew Bacigalupo secured this note, which was handed to the organ grinder the next day: 'La tua musica non mi piacia. Anda via e non retourna gia. BACIGALUPO.' (Your music doesn't please me. Go away and never come back)  The Italian scurried away from that block and never returned."

And yet another example of how the people held Bacigalupo in such high esteem. The community of Little Italy entrusted him with the amount of $5000 to be delivered to the Catholic church on his visit to the Vatican in Rome. Not only did Bacigalupo contribute the money but also “a wonderful and costly garment to the Holy Father".

While Bacigalupo never talked much about his charity work, (It was said he buried over a thousand people on his dime), he did enjoy talking about his big funerals and even boasted about driving the second coach in the funeral of Ulysses S. Grant.  He is also credited with introducing dirge-playing bands at funerals in Little Italy, which: "...have taken on a splendor at reasonable prices, the like of which early immigrants in New York never dreamed of seeing..."

August 8, 1885: The funeral procession of Ulysses S. Grant. Charles Bacigalupo drove the second coach.

 

The obituary of Il Gran' Bacigalup' concludes with the reaction to his death  "In the Bend colony the news of the death of the undertaker caused general mounrning (sp) yesterday and last night, and when the funeral arrangements have been made thousands of Italians will turn out to pay tribute to the memory of 'Il gran' Bacigalup'.' Business will cease during the hour of the funeral."

Such was the life of Charles "bye-bye" Bacigalupo. An Italian immigrant who came to the New World and made his mark by embracing his newly-adopted country and its citizens regardless of their bloodlines.

I would like to suggest that perhaps the word, baciagaloop was derived from Charles Bacigalupo. Being a prominent, well-respected person not only in Little Italy but in much of New York City, I could see his name being used initially by the Italian community as a bit of good-natured ribbing; as a compliment in good fun to someone who had performed an act of charity or simply a small act of kindness. (“You brought cannoli? Eh, bacigalupo!")  The use of his name as slang could also have come from people's envy of Charles Bacigalupo. Seeing one of their own make such a name for himself in New York could very well have brought out a little bitterness, resentment or plain jealousy in some, and perhaps it was used sarcastically: (“Oh yeah. That guy. He's a regular bacigalupo").

And maybe, just maybe, this word and its spelling shifted over the years moving away from the person Charles Bacigalupo and becoming its own entity, a word separate from the person, to the current definition meaning someone who is not only soft-headed but soft-hearted as well. ("Whattya? A baciagaloop?")  But I am just speculating. A theory as it were.  

As one who has not only used the term baciagaloop but as been recipient of it, I can only speculate as to the origins of this wonderful expression that was founded in the New World with its roots firmly entrenched in the Old. May the conversation continue not just with baciagaloop, but with other other words of this unique vocabulary that help make up and celebrate Italian-American culture.

A toast, un brindisi a Charles Bacigalupo. Ti salutiamo. cin cin.

  
 

(This blog entry was first posted July 2, 2011 under my former eblogger blog: Nella mente di Baciagalou.)

 

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