Victor Recchia is the man who designed, built, and still lives in the house that often features in The Sopranos television series about a Mafia boss. (One American newspaper described its style as “mob contemporary”.) He was recently reported to be selling sets of architectural plans to people who want to live in one just like it. Let us pass over this desire for second-hand, reach-me-down celebrity, and concentrate on Mr Recchia’s choice of words: “I don’t want to seem braggadocious, but people keep telling me it’s the most famous house in the country, after the White House”.
Braggadocious? That word hasn’t yet entered any dictionary that I know of, though you can find many examples online and it sometimes turns up in American newspapers. As far back as 1987, presidential contender Jack Kemp was described in Time: “He is proud of his erudition, using French phrases like elan vital, but he sometimes tosses out strange neologisms, like ‘braggadocious’”. We can forgive the writer of this piece for not having come across the word before. I’ve found earlier examples, though, so it’s clear that Mr Kemp didn’t coin it.
It’s a very Sopranos sort of word, in fact, because it’s a derivative of the mock-Italian braggadocio, meaning an idle boaster. The Daily Telegraph obituary of John Gotti, the Mafia boss who died in June, described him as being “full of swaggering braggadocio and brimming with cocksure self-confidence”. That’s the idea in a nutshell.
Braggadocio looks so Italian that people automatically feel it’s the right word to apply in such cases. But it’s really as English as roast beef, being no more than a tarted-up and semi-disguised version of brag, to boast. It was invented by Edmund Spenser as the name of one of his characters in The Faerie Queene in 1590.
It has a powerfully descriptive ring to it — you can hear the vainglorious boastfulness of the character in every syllable — so that it soon joined the set of fictional names that have become words in the language. It is still quite common, especially in journalistic prose. It is especially useful when — as in the Telegraph obituary — it sounds so obviously the right word in the right place.