As part of the ongoing, often intense, discussion of measures taken to combat the COVID-19 virus, a picture posted on Facebook showed a sign on a bridge declaring, and I quote, “Outside with No Mask. Fugheddaboudit.”

The weird spelling, running together “forget about it,” and changing the phonetics to produce an aggressively inelegant neologism that mocks a more formally correct pronunciation of the original three words is an attempt to capture what has come to be thought of, rightly or wrongly, as the Brooklyn accent. Thank the Sopranos for that.

The posted image, apparently Photoshopped, inserts that quintessential Brooklynese into the present argument concerning COVID-related policies. That neologism did appear on signs installed by a Brooklyn borough president about 20 years ago to insist that the cultural identity of Brooklyn, then the fourth largest city according to population in the country, not be absorbed into what became Manhattan-dominant New York City in the political consolidation of the five boroughs in 1898.

I recall seeing such a sign on the Verrazano Bridge connecting Brooklyn to Staten Island, the least urban of the outer boroughs. I remember it underscored its message, “Welcome to Brooklyn,” with “Fugheddaboudit.”

A Google search indicates that the sign I remember declared you were leaving Brooklyn. Either or both could be true.

That the word works whether you are leaving or entering Brooklyn tells you how difficult it is to nail down its meaning. Two popular interpretations are, in fact, contradictory, having only a common basis in expressing a dismissive attitude.

The more literal version is that in response to some act, the word would mean just what it says.

Speaker A says, “I told Joey about the thing.” Speaker B replies, “The thing? Fugheddaboudit.”

Nothing more need be said. Speaker B has absolved Speaker A, who can forget about it. The matter has been dismissed as not important or perhaps no longer relevant.

The second meaning, the one closer to my recollection, dismisses a question in an opposite way.

The answer is so obvious that any sentient being should agree. For example, in my growing up years, New York had three future Hall of Fame centerfielders playing for the three New York teams, namely, Mickey Mantle for the Yankees in the Bronx, Willie Mays for the Giants in Manhattan, and Duke Snider for the Dodgers in Brooklyn.

Brooklynites arguing the case would declare, “The best centerfielder? Fugheddaboudit! Duke.”

That was supposed to end the argument. The matter was so clear as to make further discussion not only unnecessary, but stubbornly wrongheaded. That application of the word could be applied to any number of questions for which there was no definitive, empirical test that could result in a consensus. Rather, and especially, we are talking about opinions, as in declaring where you can get the best slice of pizza.

The insertion of the word into the question of dealing with the spread of COVID serves the latter sense of the its meaning, but in this case applied not to opinion but to a more factually based verdict that going outside in New York City now without a mask is so clearly wrong that there is no arguing the point. Its opposite meaning of being dismissive of an action as not important enough to deal with is not appropriate in the current circumstance.

The country is arguing about restrictive measures being implemented across the country to combat the spread of COVID-19. But supporters of restrictive measures now have a word to summarize their argument.

They say fugheddaboudit. If you’re going outside, put on your mask.

Stephen Lewis, originally from Brooklyn, New York is a retired college English professor and writer whose novels include three mysteries set in northern Michigan. Contact stevelew@charter.net.

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