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What does "Mafia" mean?
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Thread: What does "Mafia" mean?

  1. #1
    Member Member VladVoivode's Avatar
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    What does "Mafia" mean?

    The meaning of the word mafia is as hazy as the beginning of the organization that bears the name. Part of the problem with the etymology of the word is that Italy proper has so many dialects and Sicilian itself sounds at times like a different language. Sicily in its history had been conquered by the ancient Greeks, Moors, and Normans and the dialect strongly reflects the presence of so many conquerors. Sicily is an island, and the Italian mainland is very mountainous. Linguists have studied Italy and have noted dozens of different dialects. The dialects are so different that the word mafia had different meanings depending upon the region of the country. Let's have a look!

    According to Professor Michael LaSorte (2009), Professor Emeritus at SUNY: " Going back in time, the word mafia has been used in different contexts, and not only in Sicily. In the Florentine dialect it means poverty or miseria (famine). The Piedmont word mafiun is related; it refers to uomo piccino (small man), signifying mean, narrow-minded, shabby, wretched. The significance of the word historically in Sicily, however, is different. The term appeared for the first time in a 1658 document, "Catarina la licatisa nomata ancor Maffia," as the nickname of a witch (that is, Maffia), in the sense of audacity, a thirst for power, arrogance. The double "f" was dropped in the 1860s.

    In the 1800s, the word was discovered by scholars in the Palermo dialect. Probably an imported term, it indicated a Sicilian plant and/or a western Sicilian term that referred to criminal activity in general: camorra, highway robbery, brigandage. Mafiusu, as a descriptive adjective, was present in Sicilian by the early 1800s, at least among inhabitants of the fishing village of Il Borgo, outside of the Palermo walls and incorporated into the city in 1880."

    What's important to note here that both Piemonte and Firenze (Florence) are northern regions of Italy where, until quite recently, the mafia as a crime organization had never infiltrated. In a future post, I will be talking about organized crime's burgeoning operations in northern Italy. [N.B. Benito Mussolini, "Il Duce", tried unsuccesfully to crush both the Sicilian mafia as well as the very deadly Neapolitan camorra. Mussolini was a northern Italian, the inventor of fascism, and rabidly against the mafia. Mussolini might have fared better siding with the mafia rather than the Nazis: at least the mafia doesn't kill innocents]!

    "In the Borgo, mafiusu meant something positive, out of the ordinary: beauty, gracefulness, perfection, excellence. An attractive girl was a ragazza mafiusu. An object that was elegant or impressive, such as a building, would earn the appellation palazzo mafiusu. In reference to a man, the adjective indicated a show of exaggerated masculinity, a superiority, virility; a man with utter confidence, who understood the essence of manhood. From mafiusu, the Italian equivalent translates into the noun/adjective mafioso.

    The origin of the Palermo term is uncertain. Some say it is an Arabic derivative, from mahias that means impudent, brazen, shameless, or its origin is from the Saracen race that dominated Palermo from 800 A.D. to after 1000: Ma afir. A third argument points to the Arabic maha, stone quarry, especially the volcanic tufa stone quarry near the western port city of Trapani called mafie. It was there that the Arab refugees who were expelled from Palermo when the city was overrun by the Normans took refuge (as well as others, later). There is no end to such theories. Another comes from the period of General Garibaldi's invasion of Sicily, in 1860, to oust the Bourbon occupiers. Sicilian rebels who were hiding in the mafie got the name of mafiosi, that is, the people of the mafie. And it was through that process that the word took on meanings like superiority, haughtiness, etc., in the language of the people. The hypothesis of an Arabic origin appears most probable" (LaSorte, 2009).

    The word mafia is also thought to be of Persian origin and its original meaning was "place of refuge." During the occupation of Sicily by the Moors, Sicilians took to the mountains to escape Moor rule, to preserve their culture, and to be the real "law" of the Sicilian people. These "men of honor" were considered heroes because they led in the resistance against the Moor occupiers.

    " After 1860, mafiusu would take on a more sinister tone. The change can be attributed to a very successful play, which got national coverage, entitled I mafiusi della Vicaria ("The Mafiosi of the Palermo Prison"). The play was about the customs, habits and speech patterns of the prison inmates. The inmate members of the camorra (camorra/camorristi were the Neapolitan terms used at that time in Sicily to refer to organized crime) held sway over the other inmates. They imposed their own will, and norms of comportment, language and social rank on the entire prison population. It was those individuals who for the first time were called mafiosi. (The term officially entered Sicilian dictionaries in the 1870s and the Italian in the 1890s.) The play introduced the word to the public, and journalists and politicians quickly took the term as their own to refer to Sicilian organized crime, distinguishing the phenomenon from brigandage, the Neapolitan camorra and common street delinquency."

    LaSorte, M. (2009). "Mafia: What's in a word?"

  2. #2
    Senior Member Member FLMetfan's Avatar
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    I always thought is stood for "Mothers and Fathers Italian Association"

    I am Italian so I always thought that was funny. I had a belt buckle years ago that said that. it was a great conversation piece.
    "I am the warden! Get your warden off this gurney and shut up! You are not in America. This is the island of Barbados. People will see you doing this." Monty Delk's last words.

  3. #3
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    You can't totally hate the Mafia. This organization began after Italians came over and were despised and could get no help from the police.

    Sidenote: Bobby Darin's half-sister has the last name of "Maffia"

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