I didn't use 'goombah' as a slur: Few people have more connections to Italy or love for Italians

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I read David DeAngelo's commentary in the Post-Gazette's Sunday Forum ("On Goombahs and Guidos," Jan. 24) with much interest.

He and I can agree about one thing. The best pizza in the United States is to be found at Pepe's and Sally's in New Haven, Conn. I've had the opportunity to enjoy that great fare countless times over the past 60 years as a summer resident at the Woodmont shore.

I have made a serious effort to speak to many Italian-Americans over the past three weeks regarding the meaning of the word "goombah," which I recently used in a radio interview. In fact, a few friends asked their grandmothers, who were born in Italy, what their definition and societal understanding of this word is. Every one of these people -- professional, business, labor, academic -- responded the same way. They all utilize and accept goombah as an expression of close friendship, a warm greeting and sometimes even use it to greet a relative like a cousin.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines goombah as "a companion or associate, especially an older friend who acts as a patron, protector or adviser." This is my reference. I would ask Mr. DeAngelo, please tell me -- aside from your own personal definition -- what is your literary reference?

Anyone can state (whether candidly or disingenuously) what they believe a particular word or phrase means. Many words may strike different chords among various individuals, most often derived from some event or recollection from the past. Obviously, this is what Mr. DeAngelo has done in recalling a childhood experience with his father. While he has a perfect right to draw a semantic inference based upon such a personal incident, he has no right to publicly imply that I used the word goombah to suggest some kind of Mafia relationship between Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala and FBI Agent Bradley Orsini.

If he knows anything about me at all, Mr. DeAngelo should know that I have a fair command of the English language and, furthermore, I am not hesitant or ashamed to say what I think about someone, especially individuals who have attacked and attempted to destroy me and my family.

If I believed Messrs. Zappala and Orsini were Mafioso, I would have stated so. I used goombah to characterize exactly what I (and a respected dictionary) believe it to mean -- a warm friendship, some kind of personal relationship. That is exactly the kind of unholy alliance that developed between Mr. Zappala and Mr. Orsini, which was the original, major factor that resulted in an egregious, unjust 84-count federal indictment against me -- a five-year dramatic saga that extracted a very heavy toll from me, my wife and my children in many ways.

I might possibly have given some credence to Mr. DeAngelo's critical editorial commentary if he had at least acknowledged that many other Italian-Americans do not believe that goombah is an insulting term -- and if he had expressed some awareness and concern about how Messrs. Zappala and Orsini had grievously abused the criminal justice system to pursue a vendetta (may I use that word, Mr. DeAngelo?) against me.

I should like to point out a few facts.

I have been a proud honorary life member of the Italian Sons and Daughters of America since 1972, a designation that is listed in my curriculum vitae. I have visited and vacationed in Italy more than a dozen times since 1960, including several trips with children and grandchildren. (The people, climate, historical sights and cuisine make Italy the best country in the world to visit.) Many of my closest associates, friends and professional colleagues are of Italian descent. I have personally organized and conducted two international medical-legal seminars in Rome. And I have been attempting to get my wife to grant me a divorce for the past 30 years so I can marry Sophia Loren.

How many people do you know who have this kind of proven record and relationship with Italy and Italian people?

Dr. Cyril H. Wecht is a forensic pathologist and a former medical examiner and coroner for Allegheny County.


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