The word that Americans often hear pronounced as "kuh-PEESH" both is and is not Italian--that is to say, it is a corruption of an Italian word in Southern dialect (either Napoletano or Siciliano.) The uncorrupted word in Italian is "Capisce?" (pronounced "ca-pee-shay,") the third person of the verb "Capire" (to understand). It is usually used as a question. To understand who is asking the question to whom, you have to enter the quagmire of Italian personal pronouns that I outlined in my earlier post on the Flute List. To make it brief and painless, "Capisce?" asks the question "Do you understand?" using the most formal form of "You" (singular; masculine or feminine.) This is the form: "Lei" (capitalized). "Lei" when capitalized means "You"; when it is not capitalized, it means "she." Both forms ("Lei & lei," meaning "you & she") take all verbs in the THIRD person singular. To make it even more confusing, most Italians completely drop subject pronouns from a sentence, particularly from a question, on the absurd theory that everyone can deduce the missing subject pronoun from the conjugated verb. So in the case of "Capisce?", someone is asking you (in dialect) in a very formal, deferential way: "Do you understand?" This would be the preferred form of address of let's say a Mafia hit-man who has just explained to you why the Godfather put out a contract on your life, and now is just about the pull the trigger.
My pet-peeve is the continued corruption of Italian words by Italo-Americani who never learned Italian and just repeat the sounds of their immigrant grand-parents made in dialect. Like "kuh-peesh," the same is true of "pastafazul," "batta-bim, batta-boom", and others.
--Mark Starr, 18 Nov 1996