Where does fugazi come from?
In his 1981 book Nam, Mark Baker presented an oral history from Vietnam veterans. One of the stories in the book contains the line: “We didn’t know anything was fugazi until we got to a certain place in the South China Sea.” The word fugazi is asterisked and a glossary in the back of the book defines it as “fucked up or screwed up.”
Some have suggested that fugazi is an acronym—similar to SNAFU (Situation Normal, All Fucked Up) or FUBAR (Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition)—standing for Fucked Up, Got Ambushed, Zipped In (to a body bag). Others have connected it to the flame fougasse, a type of improvised explosive used during the Vietnam War. Nam mentions neither of these origins, though slang lexicographer Jonathon Green cites the acronym explanation.
Former New York Daily News “City Slang” columnist Evan Morris pointed out on his website, The Word Detective, that Nam is the earliest use of the term in print and appears years after the Vietnam War. Morris also noted that Vietnam veterans have told him they were unfamiliar with the term. The Historical Dictionary of American Slang, meanwhile, dates the term around the same time, to 1980 for “fucked up in the head.”
Nonetheless, fugazi as it was used in Nam caught on to some degree in popular culture. In 1984, the British progressive rock band Marillon released an album titled Fugazi, apparently in reference to the military slang term. The title track contains the lyric “do you realise, this world is totally fugazi?” In 1987, former Minor Threat frontman Ian MacKaye formed the hardcore punk band Fugazi, taking the name from Baker’s Nam. In this use, fugazi is usually spelled with an I and pronounced with a broad A, like foo-gah-zee.
The use of fugazy to mean “fake” came to the public eye in 1988, with the publication of Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia. The book detailed the experiences of an undercover FBI agent who posed as a jewel thief in the 1970s to infiltrate the Mafia. Fugazy, spelled with a Y, is used several times in the book to refer to fake jewelry. The use of fugazy to refer to fake jewelry was carried over into the 1997 movie adaptation of Donnie Brasco. Evan Morris suggests that use of fugazy to mean fake may have been inspired by a New York limousine service, Fugazy Continental, named for Bob Fugazy, who promised high class for a low price. The spelling used in the book and the pronunciation used in the movie, rhyming with crazy, do match the limo company name, but, again, this origin is simply Morris’s speculation.
The term has been used in several rap songs, including Jay-Z’s “Imaginary Player” in 1997, to describe not just objects, but also people as fake or phony.
In the 2013 movie The Wolf of Wall Street one stockbroker, played by Matthew McConaughey, explains to another, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, that the entire industry of stock brokerage is “a fugazi.” In that scene, McConaughey pronounces the word foo-gah-zee, and DiCaprio corrects him to foo-gay-zee.
Who uses fugazi?
Fugazi in the sense of “fucked up” is used in reference to the Vietnam war, but not much elsewhere.
Fugazy or fugazi in the sense of “fake” is strongly associated with Italian communities in New York and New Jersey, but has also been more widely adopted through the popularity of the movie Donnie Brasco and through hip-hop.
In addition to functioning as an adjective and noun, fugazi/fugazy sometimes serves as a verb for “mess up.”
“I downloaded the new update, but it came up with an error message during installation and quit halfay [sic] through, and completely fugazied my iphone.”
bajori Apple (August 19, 2008)
“Copping everything from look-a-likes to fugazi materials just to feel good about ya selves smh”
@the_Dondotti Twitter (April 25, 2017)
“Michael Pregent, a former Army Intelligence Officer with over 28 years of experience working conflicts around the world, examined footage from the parade in Pyongyang and noticed that much of the military hardware are fugazi.”
Paul Sacca, “Military Expert Shreds North Korea Parade For Fake Weapons, Even Sunglasses Are Fugazi,” BroBible (April, 27, 2017)