The mayor of the Italian city Bologna, Virginio Merola, prefers to call it “fake news.” He’s incensed that tourists who come to his city ask for spaghetti Bolognese (or “spag bol”) at local restaurants. He claims that it does not exist. And he is launching an awareness campaign to teach people the truth.
“Dear residents, I am collecting photos of spaghetti Bolognese from around the world in relation to fake news,” Merola wrote on Twitter, alongside a picture of a blackboard of a London restaurant where it is the specialty of the house at 6.95 pounds sterling. “This one is from London, please send me yours. Thank you.” Merola is collecting all the photos to display them at Bologna’s FICO Eataly World, which is the world’s largest food theme park that opened in November 2018.
Spaghetti Bolognese – or “spag bol” — doesn’t exist in Italy, yet it is famous the world over. Merola is happy that it draws attention to his city, but prefers that Bologna be known for the quality of food that is part of its culinary tradition, like tagliatelle, tortellini, and lasagne. What you do find in Bologna is “ragù,” a meat-based sauce served most often with tagliatelle, a pasta with a greater surface area to hold the sauce.
Proud of its strong food culture, Bologna is also home to Mortadella, a large Italian sausage often sliced as charcuterie or luncheon meat. It is made of finely ground pork and small cubes of port fat and is flavored with spices, such as whole or ground black pepper, myrtle berries and / or pistachios. It is the cousin of “bologna,” the impossibly pink and perfectly round pork slices slapped between slices of white bread and served in the lunch boxes of school kids in the United States many years ago. In Newfoundland, it is a popular breakfast food called the Newfie Steak. In Britain it goes by “Polony,” which may be derived from Polonia (Poland) or from the Italian city famous for its sausages.
In America, bologna deli meat is often pronounced and spelled “baloney,” which is also a common slang term. The expression took off in the 1930s thanks for Alfred E. Smith, governor of New York, who often used the term “baloney” in reference to Washington bureaucracy. To say that someone is “full of baloney” means that he is full of falsehoods, nonsense or foolishness.
So why do we pronounce the name of the meat “baloney” and not “bologna”? One linguistic theory is that it follows the pattern of Italian words ending in “-ia” such as Italia, Sicilia, and Lombardia, which in English took on “-y” endings: Italy, Sicily, and Lombardy. But it’s “bologna” not “bolognia.” Others believe that it could be derived from Italians’ penchant for shortening words like “prosciut” for “prosciutto,” or alterations that you often see in Italian dialects.
In summary, what is baloney? There are at least 3 answers: “spag bol,” Washington bureaucracy, and pink pork slathered with mustard. And also nonsense.