Speak like a Sicilian Mafioso
Gangs, niche subcultures, and even tight-knit groups will always continue to develop their own way of communicating with one another, especially if they are involved in secretive or illicit activities.
In the UK, when engaging in homosexual activities became a punishable offence, homosexuals began speaking to one another in Polari to avoid detection.
An Irish traveller friend of mine once referred to me as a buffer (settled-person) and I asked him if that was traveller slang.
“Yeah we call the language can’t” he corrected me.
“Why?” I asked baffled.
“Because you can’t understand it” he said with a big cheeky grin.
Even the God-fearing Amish often speak Pennsylvanian Dutch to each other when in the presence of outsiders. These languages were all invented or altered to avoid detection from outsiders, and in the case of Polari – police.
Amico – a friend. In the context of the mafia, it would be a friend that is not a member of the crime family.
Acqua davanti e ventu d’arreri – Literally meaning “water in front and wind behind.” This expression is used for specifically to describe a person who garnered sympathy at first but later turned out to be unbearable. You essentially hope that person goes away with rain in front of them and wind behind them to propel them away faster.
Basta – It means “enough” but with slightly more emphasis. Eg: two young made men are fighting, another man tries to break it up whilst shouting basta!
Bello/Bella – Handsome man/beautiful woman. Ciao Bella, means hello beautiful.
Bastardo – B*stard. This is the Italian word for “b*stard” and it means the same thing it does in English. It goes without saying that this is used as an insult in Italian and you shouldn’t call someone this unless you mean it.
Fun fact: Funnily enough, the spiny Sicilian prickly pears are are nicknamed Bastardoni, which means “big b*stards” probably because eating them can be a painful experience if you don’t remove all of the spikes first.
Capisce/Capito – Pronounced ca-pee-scey/Ca-pee-toe. It is derived from Latin “to take, catch, comprehend”. Nowadays it means “Do you understand” and can be used as a rhetorical question to belittle someone. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard the word Capeesh accompanied by aggressive hand gestures. Well, Capeesh is an Americanised version of the word Capisce. To tell someone “I understand” you would use Capisco.
il Capo – the boss, head, chief or leader.
Capomandamento – A capomandamento represents the head of a territory. See Mandamento.
Cazzata – Bullsh*t. This word basically means bullsh*t. It is used pretty much the same as in English.
Cazzo – pronounced Catzo. Meaning “d*ck”. Italy doesn’t really have the “F” word, instead Cazzo is used the exact same way the f word is used in English. Eg: I don’t give a d*ck.
Che cavolo – pronounced “kay ca-vo-hlo” It is used to mean “What the hell” but directly translated it actually means “What cabbage”
Chiudere il becco– meaning “to shut up” Literally meaning ‘to close the beak’
Cin Cin – means cheers. It is thought to derive from replicating the clinking sound that glasses make.
Coglione – This is a slang term for testicles. It can also be used as an insult. When you use this to refer to someone you are implying that they lack intelligence, similar to calling somebody a fool.
Mi hai rotto I coglioni – This phrase literally translates to “you have cracked my testicles”. When you say this to someone or use this phrase to describe them, you are basically saying that you find them extremely annoying.
Comare – You are probably already familiar with the Americanized version of this word – goomar or goomah, from shows like The Sopranos, and even The Simpsons. It is of course, a Mafia member’s mistress. However, it can also mean Godmother, or more specifically, the Godmother of your child. It comes from Co-Madre, which means co-mother. So like a second mother.
Compare – In Sicilian, “compare” refers to a child’s godfather, but it can also be used to describe a close male friend who is considered to be like a brother. There isn’t an equivalent word in English that holds as much weight. Choosing a friend to be your child’s Godparent is taken very seriously. In Sicilian culture it essentially means that you are considers a member of the family and held in the same regard as a sibling.
Focu ‘ranni – literally meaning “big fire” The expression is used to describe a really complicated situation that’s difficult to sort out, similar to how you would say I’m caught between a rock and a hard place or I’m in a pickle.
Fratellanza – brotherhood
Fratello – brother
Imbarasso – embarrassment
In bocca al lupo – Good luck. The literal meaning is, in the mouth of the wolf, kind of like break a leg.
Maleducato – pronounced ma-leh-du-ca-to. It means rude, but the word comes from uneducated.
Mamma Mia – Yes, I have actually heard people in Sicily using this. It means “My Mother” and is used in the same way as “Oh my God”.
Mandamento – a mandamento is traditionally a district of three geographically contiguous Mafia cosche (families controlling a single land feud, or a city ward) in Sicily.
Merda – Sh*t. Similar to the French word merde, this mean’s “sh-t” in Italian.
(Oh) Mio Dio – (pronounced mee-o dee-o) Meaning “Oh my God”.
Omertà – It is mandatory take this vow of silence to be in the mafia, and anyone thought to have broken this vow can end up assassinated.
Pazzo/Pazza – crazy man/crazy woman. It can be used the same way as it is in English, it can be used as an insult or a compliment depending on context.
Pizzo – Pronounced Pitt-so. The pizzo is protection money paid to the mafia. The term comes from the Sicilian word pizzu (beak). To let someone whet their beak is to pay them protection money.
Porca miseria – which literally translates as “pig misery” but is used to say things suck. It is used as a way to complain or rant about something.
Rincoglionito – loosely meaning Braindead, stoned, a moron or imbecile. It comes from the Italian verb, rincoglionire, which means to become stupid, be incoherent, or to lose capacity to use your brain. It can also be used to refer to someone “becoming senile” or “losing their marbles”. It is a little bit vulgar as it contains the word coglioni.
Spacca e lassa – A person who “spacca e lassa” is someone eho talks the talk but can’t back it up. If someone brags about having done something, but runs in the other direction when they’re asked to prove it, this person is someone who “spacca e lassa.”
Zio/Zia – Uncle/Aunt.
I hope you enjoyed learning how to speak like a Sicilian Mafioso!