Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Mafia & co.

I've always been confused about the terminology used to refer to the mafia- and apparently I'm not the only one. In the United States, "The Mafia" is generally understood to the Italian-American Mafia operating within the US.  In 1962, Joseph Valachi introduced the world to the term "Costa Nostra", literally meaing "our thing," (though there is apparently some evidence that he was coached to use it as a proper noun instead of an informal phrase used by members).  The FBI added the article "La" for some reason.  Anyway, "Cosa Nostra" is used for any branch of the Mafia, or the organization/network as a whole. ( This 1967 article by Time Magazine about Joseph Valachi includes an amazingly straight-faced report of the slang used by the mafia - apparently before the terminology was a part of popular culture at all.) "The Five Families" refers specifically to the main mafia families who have ruled New York City since the 1930s.

While the Italian-American Mafia's primary activities only include, bookmaking, loan-sharking, extortion, gambling, drug trafficking.  Until the 1960s, they also dealt in prostitution. the Sicilian Mafia adds political corruption, arms trafficking, contract killing, arson, fraud, and counterfeiting. Apparently the Sicilian Mafia isn't super into drug trafficking.

Instead of one big organization, the mafia is more like a loose association of "families", "cosche", "borgatas" or "clans" (despite the name, their members are generally not related by blood). Today, according to the Chief Prosecutor of Palermo, Francesco Messineo, there are 94 Mafia clans in Sicily subject to 29 mandamenti, with a total of at least 3,500 to 4,000 full members.

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