THE AMERICAN MAFIA - Underworld Slang

The American Mafia has a unique lexicon. Its collection of slang has been building for more than a century. Many of its words have entered mainstream language. This is a collection of Mafia-related slang. Skip ahead in the list by clicking on an index letter below. Note: Because the Mafia depends on the threat of violence to generate income and on actual violence for member discipline, many Mafia terms are synonyms for murder.

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | R | S | T | U | V | W | Z |

A

Action
Old-time term for illicit profits. Also sometimes used to refer to the potential for racket income.
Arm
Nickname for the Buffalo-Niagara Falls Mafia family.
Associate
Though the usual sense of this word conveys a sense of belonging, in Mafia-speak an associate is one who works in affiliation with a Mafia organization but is not an official member.

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B

Beef
A quarrel between underworld individuals or groups. Also hard feelings felt by one Mafioso against another. Beefs are generally brought to Mafia higher-ups for resolution.
Black Book
Nickname for the publicly circulated exclusion lists - generally of racketeers and game-cheats - generated by gaming commissions in Nevada and New Jersey.
Book
A gambling racket ordinarily focused on sporting events. The racket is run by a "bookmaker."
Books
Membership rolls of the Mafia families.
Borgata
Family. The basic structural unit of the Mafia society. The Borgata has an established hierarchy, a body of members or soldiers, and many associates.
Boss
Sometimes referred to as Father, Godfather or Uncle in the old tradition, the boss is the leader of the Mafia Family.
Break
To displine a Mafia family leader by demoting him in rank.
Bump off
Kill.
Burn
Kill.
Button
A soldier in a Mafia family. A member who can be called upon by a family boss to perform an execution.
Buy
Bribe. A police officer or politician who takes money in exchange for allowing crime to continue is "bought."

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C

Call in
The act of ordering - without explanation - a made man to report to his superiors. Mafiosi might be called in so they can be disciplined (murdered). Once the order is received, the made man must report as ordered. So, mafiosi in trouble with superiors will sometimes drop out of touch to avoid receiving the call.
Capo dei capi
The leader of all leaders or boss of bosses. The most powerful Mafia boss to whom all others defer. Some know this as the Capo di capi or the Capo di tutti capi.
Capo
Originally referred to a Mafia boss but in more recent usage refers to a minor leader within a Mafia family, chief of a crew. Also referred to as a captain, skipper or lieutenant.
Capodecina
Synonymous with capo, this term designates the capo as a leader of at least ten soldiers.
Caporegime
Synonymous with capo, but often used to refer to more significant group leaders.
Case
Size up criminal possibilities. Plan a robbery. As in "case the joint."
Clip
Kill. Also to harm in some way. ("Jimmy clipped me of 5 G's.")
Combination
An organized criminal entity including gangs of various ethnic backgrounds. Syndicate.
Commission
A ruling representative body serving as the national legislature and supreme court of the Mafia network. Commission members are the leaders of the more powerful Mafia families. Each is also assigned to represent minor families.
Connected
A description of a Mafia "associate."
Consigliere
A translation of this word as "counselor" has led to a mistaken impression about the position's duties (that the consigliere is an adviser to the boss). Actually, the consigliere post is intended to serve the family membership, by granting a channel of communication to the boss.
Contract
An old-time term referring to an order to murder an individual.
Cosa Nostra
To many, this is the proper name of the Mafia in the United States. In fact, it was an effort by some mob bosses to refer to their shared secret society WITHOUT naming it. The phrase translates to, "our thing."
Cosca
Translated "gang," this term is typically used to refer to a Mafia organization in Sicily. Equivalent to "borgata."
Crew
A body of soldiers assigned to a capo. The crew typically meets on a regular basis at the capo's headquarters.
Crumb
Old-time term for a member of "legit" society. A working man.

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D

Do up
Mafia's 19th Century slang for murder. "Go find Benny and do him up."
Don
A traditional term of respect for a male in Romance languages, which has been corrupted in some circles to refer to Mafia bosses.
Dough
Money, especially the ill-gotten variety.
Drop
or drop-off. A prearranged location for disposal of goods. Also a holding location where individuals are screened before being taken to an illicit activity, such as a crap game.

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E

Earner
One who generates income for a Mafia family. Higher levels of income are generated by "big-earners."

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F

Family
The basic unit of the Mafia society. See "Borgata."
Father
Antiquated term for the leader of a Mafia family. See "Boss."
Featherbedding
The practice of assigning more union workers to a project than necessary.
Feds
Federal law enforcement agents. In pre-Prohibition days, Mafia-feared Feds were agents of the Secret Service, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and the Postal Inspection Service. During Prohibition, they were agents of the Treasury Department. After Prohibition, the FBI gradually - and reluctantly - turned its attention toward the Mafia.
Fence
One who trades in stolen goods. To sell off swag.
Fix
A situation in which law enforcement has been paid to allow criminal activity. A gangster might refer to such a situation by saying, "The fix was in."
Flip
To abandon the principle of "omerta" and begin to cooperate with law enforcement.
Friend of ours
An introduction in which one Mafia member informs another that a new acquaintance is also a member. It is a means of vouching for the underworld credentials of another person. As opposed to "friend of mine," which, in introduction, means simply what it says.

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Deep Water book

G

Ghost payroll
Names of non-existent or no-show employees added to a payroll (typically through a corrupt labor union) in order to funnel money to the Mafia.
Godfather
Title typically used out of respect and affection. In a Mafia context (particularly in the movies), it refers to the boss. However, no boss in the modern era has been addressed by that title.
Goomba
Term of affection and respect.
Grease
See "buy."

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H

Heat
Intense attention from law enforcement and/or media.
Heavy
Armed.
Hit
An assigned murder.
Hit the mattresses
Engage in an underworld feud. Key members of a family quickly move to inconspicuous safe houses. The phrase probably refers to sleeping on a mattress thrown on the floor.

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I

Ice
Another term for murder. Also refers to a delaying tactic, as in "keep him on ice."

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J

Joint
Older term for prison. Also known as "the can," "the pen," "up the river," "the big house," "stir." A convict in prison might be said to be "away."
Juice
The shylocking racket.
Junk
Narcotics. A drug trafficker is said to be in the "junk business."

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K

Knock off
Kill.
Knock over
Rob. The term probably comes from robberies of small produce or news stands, which could be bumped to spill their contents onto the ground.

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L

La Cosa Nostra
In an effort to make cosa nostra sound more like a proper name, federal agents seem to have been responsible for the addition of the "La." The phrase, literally translated "the our thing," has been interpreted as "this thing of ours."
Lay low
Act inconspicuously or stay out of sight.
LCN
Striving for credibility after denying the existence of a nationwide Mafia for decades, J. Edgar Hoover's FBI "discovered" La Cosa Nostra around 1960 and began referring to it with the meaningless abbreviation "LCN."
Legit
Legal business endeavors. A distinction applied by members of the underworld to the activities of non-criminals.
Loan shark
See "shylock."

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M

Made
Formally inducted into the Mafia through a ceremony. Prospective members are called to a meeting without being given a reason. Through an elaborate ritual, they are then invited to join the Mafia. They are typically told the rules of the society, its history and hierarchy, and the general disciplinary measure for disobedience - death.
Mark
A person or place targeted for criminal activity.
Marker
A notation of a debt. An IOU.
Meet
Meeting.
Men of honor
An older term referring to Sicilian Mafiosi. The term emphasizes a link between the Mafia and Sicily's displaced old aristocracy.
Messaggero
A relatively recent addition to the Mafia family hierarchy. The job of the messenger is to function as liaison between specific families. Effective messengers can reduce the need for sit-downs and limit the exposure of bosses to law enforcement. New York's Genovese Family was credited with inventing the post in order to coordinate activity with counterparts in Chicago.
Mickey Mouse Mafia
Derogatory nickname of the Los Angeles, CA, Mafia family.
Mustache Pete
During the Prohibition Era, old country Mafiosi were referred to with this term. The two most prominent "Mustache Petes" in New York were Salvatore Maranzano and Giuseppe Masseria.
Muscle
Intimidate. Also those who function as underworld thugs.
Muscle in
Invade a rival's racket or territory through force.

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N

Numbers
A lottery game that has been a money-maker for American Mafiosi since the U.S. Civil War.

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O

Off the record
When a mobster retains all profits from an illicit business venture, without kicking up a share to his superiors.
Office
Nickname for the New England Mafia.
Omerta
A uniquely Sicilian attitude calling for non-cooperation with government authority and the settlement of disputes through personal means. Omerta typically refers to the Mafia's strict code of silence with regard to underworld affairs.
On the carpet
The situation that occurs when a made guy's performance is harshly criticized by his superior.
On the lam
Moving secretly. Indicted mobsters, in an effort to avoid arrest, might go "on the lam," changing their address, moving secretly from place to place.
On the pad
Designation for a law enforcement officer who is paid by the underworld to ignore certain criminal activity.
On the spot
Set up for assassination.
Outfit
Chicago slang name for the local Mafia family.

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P

Packing
Armed with a concealed handgun.
Paper local
A chartered union local that has no legitimate membership or reason for existence. Paper locals are known to have played a role in Teamster Union elections.
Partnership
A nickname for the Detroit Mafia family.
Piece
A percentage of profit from illicit business ventures. Also a handgun.
Piece of work
An assigned murder.
Pinch
Arrest.
Points
Interest paid on a shylock loan. Also known as "vig" or "shy."
Pop
Kill.
Protection
An extortion racket in which business owners are assessed a tax by a local Mafia group in exchange for assurances that no harm will come to them. Also the money paid by organized criminal groups in bribes to law enforcement.

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R

Rat
To provide information to law enforcement about criminal activities of underworld associates. One who provides such information or who appears likely to give in to law enforcement pressure. See "stool pigeon."
Rub out
Kill.

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S

Shake down
Obtain money or other concessions from businesses or individuals by using intimidation or extortion.
Shylock
A financial racketeer who loans money at usurious interest rates. Often shylocks arrange payment terms that never reduce the loan principal. Those who fail to make regular payments to a skylock are disciplined with violence.
Show-up time
In union contracts, it is the amount paid to employees for appearing at a work site on days when work is not done.
Sit-down
A meeting, perhaps called to settle a "beef."
Skim
The act of siphoning funds from a legitimate business enterprise to an underworld organization. Also, the money withdrawn from a venture - such as casino gambling - before income is calculated for tax purposes.
Skipper
See capo.
Snitch
Traitor to the underworld. See "stool pigeon."
Soldati
Soldiers. The lowest rank of formal Mafia membership.
Standup Guy
An individual who observes the principles of omerta even when it brings harm to himself.
Stool pigeon
Older term for traitor to the underworld. One who "flips" and cooperates with law enforcement by providing information about his former criminal partners. Also known as "rat" and "snitch."
Straight
Older term for uncriminal behavior. A man who gave up crime and took a regular job "went straight."
Straighten out
Resolve a dispute. Formally induct a Mafia member.
Swag
Stolen goods.

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T

Table
A meeting or sit-down.
Tail
A law enforcement officer who is tracking an individual's movement.
Territory
An underworld jurisdiction. While this is generally understood to refer to a geographic area, it actually refers to rackets officially designated as belonging to a family.
Tommy gun
Nickname for the Thompson submachine gun popular with some Prohibition Era gangsters.

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U

Underboss
Second in command of a borgata. The underboss is often selected because he represents a powerful minority wing in the family.

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V

Vendetta
A pledge of personal vengeance on an enemy. The vendetta is a solemn and secret vow.
Vig
Or "vigorish." Percentage of each bet that is retained as income for a bookmaker. The usurious interest charged by a shylock.

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W

War
Violent confrontation between underworld organizations.
Whack
Murder.
Wire
An electronic surveillance device secretly worn inside the clothing of an agent or a cooperating mobster. Also the name of a gambling racket involving the transmission of horse race results or other sporting results (as depicted in the movie "The Sting.")
Wiseguy
A "made" member of a Mafia organization.

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Z

Zips
Derogatory term for immigrant Sicilian Mafiosi operating within the United States. The Bonanno Family in New York is known to have maintained a working relationship with a crew of Zips.
Zu
Also Zio. The term, translated "uncle," is one of affection and respect for a senior member of the underworld.

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Copyright 2011, Thomas P. Hunt, P.O. Box 1350, New Milford, CT 06776-1350
All Rights Reserved

The American Mafia

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Organized Crime in
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