f/k/a . . . the archives

November 25, 2006

what is “agita”?

Filed under: — David Giacalone @ 11:59 am

The anonymous Editor of Blawg Review, wrote to me overnight, concerned that I might not know the origin of one of my favorite words, agita. “Ed” sent me this link to a medical website which explains:

Agita: Heartburn, acid indigestion, an upset stomach or, by extension, a general feeling of upset. The word is Italian-American slang derived from the Italian “agitare” meaning “to agitate.”

That launched me on a lengthy tangent, in which I discovered a fuller and fun discussion of agita at The Word Detective, which includes:

You won’t find “agita” in most dictionaries, although it is a quintessential Italian-American slang word. Strictly speaking, “agita” is a stomach upset or heartburn. But “agita” can also mean that special kind of existential dyspepsia of the soul you get when absolutely everything goes wrong. Comedian Jackie Mason has explained “agita” as “when you have been aggravated to the point where it feels like you have a serious migraine headache throughout your whole body.” “Agita” is thus more or less the Italian-American equivalent of the Yiddish “tsuris” (”misery”), an equation not lost on Woody Allen, who made a song about “agita” the center-piece of his 1984 film “Broadway Danny Rose.”

alkas From The Word Detective, I careened around the Web, until I found lyrics to one of the many ditties within Broadway Danny Rose about agita. I believe they will help elucidate the concept:

Agita

(by Nick Apollo Forte)

Una two!
Agita

My gumba in the banzone
When I eat, he gets a treat
Like a canzone
He enjoys every meal
Every bite that I steal
Agita

My gumba in the banzone
Za da da da da|boom cha boom cha
Za da da dum|cha boom cha boom
Some people like their pizza,|some people like-a suffrite
And others like hot pepper|on everything they eat
You’ll hunger with a vuole|to taste that baccala
Then all at once you think,|”Will I answer to gumba?”
Ba ba ba ba bum|cha cha dum
Ba ba ba ba bum|cha cha dum

My lovely, lovely woman,|I hate to see her cry
But when I start to mangia,|I get the evil eye
My vuole’s getting stronger
Ah, the hell with my gumba
Then I get it from my woman,|che da botts a na sciatta
Agita

My gumba in the banzone
When I eat, he gets a treat
Like a canzone
He enjoys every meal
Every bite that I steal
Agita

My gumba in the banzone
Za da da dum|cha boom cha boom

Capeesh?

[this page is excerpted from our posting agita & attention deficit disorder, Oct. 28, 2005]

6 Comments

  1. [...]   No Santa Symbol, St. Nicholas Defense Action Committees, Netherlands Notice:  This time each year, the Editor of this weblog suffers from HAH! [Holiday Agita & Heartburn], as well as BHS [Bah Humbug Syndrome], due to the excessive commercialization of Christmas and related holidays. See f/k/a, St. Nicholas v. Santa Claus, Dec. 12, 2005.  Nonetheless, in the true spirit of the Season, he offers this self-help advice to those caught up — intentionally or not — in the Christmas shopping frenzy and other schmoliday customs. [...]

    Comment by shlep: the Self-Help Law ExPress » Blog Archive » Black Friday agita and holiday season self-help — November 25, 2006 @ 2:43 pm

  2. Mille grazie for the lyrics to Agita. As an adopted Abruzzese (sono Tedesco. Che pecatta, eh?) I can’t get enough of Italian music or food. You satisfied my vuole twice!

    Ho capito,
    Oskar

    Comment by Oskar Back — February 19, 2007 @ 10:46 am

  3. Word Detective could have said, a generalized feeling bad. A sour puss day. A bad karma time.

    Comment by Geoff Dodd — November 10, 2007 @ 3:25 am

  4. The word is NOT derived from ‘agitare’… The word is merely the italian “acido” (‘acid’ in English), spoken in the southern Italian dialects. This nonsense of ‘agitare’ is oft repetaed by people who don’t know a lick about the language(s) spoken by Italian immigrants in the early 20th century.

    Comment by John F — March 10, 2008 @ 12:54 pm

  5. Dear John F., Thank you so very much for setting us all straight. We are so lucky to have your clearly superior intellect and experience to guide us.

    Of course, the Italian noun for acid just might be “derived” from the Italian verb “agitare” in the world of etymology and lexicons. Not knowing a lick might be more infectious than you know.

    p.s. As I said in our posting on the meaning of goombah: As the word comes from a people who are (in)famous for re-arranging and mutilating the sounds of the (northern) Mother Italian tongue, we can’t expect an agreement from their offspring on how to spell their alterations and transliterations here in the land of the free.

    Comment by David Giacalone — March 10, 2008 @ 1:19 pm

  6. “Broadway Danny Rose” has been a Thanksgiving ritual in our house for the past few years so I finally decided to look up the lyrics to “Agita.” Never thought I’d find them. Thanks!!!

    Comment by Perry — December 2, 2008 @ 8:04 pm

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