Etymology of Mafia


-Many people believe that “Mafia” is from the acronym “Morte Alla Francia Italia Anela” (Death to France, cries Italy) but this is not true. Nor does it come from “Mia Figlia” (my daughter). The former is an urban legend, and it makes sense, as the French did invade Sicily. The latter really has no merit whatsoever, as Mafia is really another term for “macho” or “studly.”

-Mafiosi means “friends of the friends” or “gentlemen".

-Mafioso (from a Palermo dialect) means someone bold, or daring.

-Mafia was first used in a play in 1862, and was used in 1865 to justify arresting someone for organized crime. It became a part of the general dialect in 1898, after being published in Harper’s Magazine. It became a part of the standard American vernacular, comparing the Irish mob to the Sicilian Mafia (they were called the Irish Mafia). It was then that the term got associated with the Bootleggers and Gangs in America.

-Other words associated with the “Mafia”, Omertá, for example, along with the ethnic slur “WOP” also have to do with this manliness.

-Omertá, commonly viewed as a “code of silence,” has been thought to come from humiltá(Latin) or umiltá (Italian) , meaning humility, or modesty, but it also represents one’s strength as a man. It has been suggested that another possible origin of the word is from uomo, or man. It is of several people's opinion that this got construed as a silence thing by contrasting it to one of women’s typical (perceived) roles in society: gossipers. Women (typically) have been viewed as good at language, communication. By being silent, one rejects the typical female role and therefore becomes more masculine.

-“WOP,” an ethnic slur against Italians, comes from the word guappo (Italian), meaning handsome or studly. The connotation evolved to mean something like “handsome scoundrel.”

-Other groups of organized criminals also derive their name from the machismo attitude, for example ‘NDragheta (a group of scoundrels from Calabria) came from the Greek word Andros which means man.