From the A Word A Day mailing list: Secrecy sworn to by oath; code of silence. (Italian.)

"Roth wrote that Congress should take further steps to make sure IRS employees aren't held to a mafia-like omerta, code of silence, so they can `share information necessary for appropriate oversight and reform.'" "Senator: IRS targeting whistle-blowers," Las Vegas Review - Journal, Mar 23, 1999.

Omertá comes from the word ommu that in some Sicilian dialect means "man". Omertá (notice the accent on the last A) is thus the quintessential virtue of the real man: not betraying your associates, even if it would be advantageous to you.

The oath of omerta (silence) is a part of the formal initiation ceremony of La Cosa Nostra, where a gangster is forever after considered a made man by his peers. Mobsters used to take this oath very seriously, but their loyalty was severely weakened when the government started sentencing narcotics traffickers to longer and longer stints in federal penitentiaries.

Carlo Gambino, a powerful New York mafia godfather, knew the only way he could keep the five families intact was to keep the mob out of drugs, or else every mobster who got arrested on serious drug-related charges would betray his associates in exchange for a lighter sentence. Gambino made dealing drugs punishable by death, hoping that his edict would keep the mobsters from ever getting themselves into a position where they'd be ratting out their friends to law enforcement officers.

After stiffer sentencing for drugs, the RICO Act broadened the list of crimes for which arrested mobsters could be tried, so more defendants were breaking the oath of omerta to lessen their substantial punishment. Over the years, some made guys broke the omerta oath just so they could sell their stories to the media, a tempting option that didn't exist back when the oath was first instituted.

Omertà, La loi du silence

A three-part epic tv series by Québéc creator Luc Dionne, revolving around the local italian mafia in the streets of Montréal, first shown to Québécois the year following the 1995 referendum, and then some years later in France.

The show was hugely popular and one of the strongest series ever shown on Radio-Canada. The first season of 11 episodes entitled simply Omertà, La loi du silence (the law of silence) was quickly followed by an Omertà II, also called, it seems, La loi du silence which ran 14 episodes. Two years later in 1999, came the final act of the trilogy with Omertà, le dernier des hommes d'honneur ('The single last'* of the honorable men), this time in 13 episodes.

Starring:

Michel Côté, Claude Blanchard, Luc Picard, Sophie Lorain, Michel Dumont, Brigitte Paquette, Claude Michaud, Deano Clavet, John Dunn-Hill, Sylvie Legault, David Lahaye, Marc Messier, Claude Michaud, Ron Lea, Manuel Tadros, Romano Orzari, Geneviève Rochette, Tony Calabretta, Tony Conte, Tony De Santis, Claudia Ferri.

* The Single Last (le dernier): If the title were simply 'The last of the honorable men', it could mean a group of several people or just one person, which would not reflect the precise french meaning of 'le dernier des' (one person, the last of -->bigger group), so my translation is 'The single last'. (could also be 'The last one of the honorable men', but that sounds even worse.

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