American Mafia History Website

American Mafia Website - 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.

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A

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Action (n.)
Old-time term for illicit profits. Also sometimes used to refer to the potential for racket income.
Arm (prop.n.)
Nickname for the Buffalo-Niagara Falls Mafia family.
Associate (n.)
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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Bag Man (n.)
A person who carries money for racketeers
Beef (n.)
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.
Biscuit (n.)
Handgun.
Black Book (n.)
Nickname for the publicly circulated exclusion lists - generally of racketeers and game-cheats - generated by gaming commissions in Nevada and New Jersey.
Book (n.)
A gambling racket ordinarily focused on sporting events. The racket is run by a "bookmaker."
Books (n.)
Membership rolls of the Mafia families.
Boost (v.)
Steal.
Borgata (n.)
Family. The basic structural unit of the Mafia society. The Borgata has an established hierarchy, a body of members or soldiers, and many associates. Literal translation of the term refers to a neighborhood, and there may have been a difference between a Mafia borgata and a famiglia at one time, but the two words are now synonyms.
Boss (n.)
Sometimes referred to as Father, Godfather or Uncle in the old tradition, the boss is the leader of the Mafia Family.
Break (v.)
To displine a Mafia family leader by demoting him in rank.
Bump off (v.)
Kill.
Burn (v.)
Kill.
Button (n.)
A soldier in a Mafia family. A member who can be called upon by a family boss to perform an execution.
Buy (v.)
Bribe. A police officer or politician who takes money in exchange for allowing crime to continue is "bought."

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Call In (v.)
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 (n.)
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 (n.)
Originally referred to a Mafia boss but in more recent usage it has become a shortened form of capodecina or caporegime and refers to a lesser leader within a Mafia family, chief of a crew. Also referred to as a captain, skipper or lieutenant.
Capodecina (n.)
Designates the leader of at least ten soldiers.
Caporegime (n.)
Synonymous with capodecina, but often used to refer to more significant group leaders.
Case (v.)
Size up criminal possibilities. Plan a robbery. As in "case the joint."
Chopper (n.)
Machine gun.
Clip (v.)
Kill. Also to harm in some way. ("Jimmy clipped me of 5 G's.")
Combination (prop.n.)
An organized criminal entity including gangs of various backgrounds. May also apply to Mafia crime families that came about through the merger of other smaller units. Syndicate.
Commission (n.)
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 (adj.)
A description of a Mafia "associate."
Consigliere (n.)
A translation of this word as "counselor" has led to a mistaken impression about the position's duties (that the consigliere is the adviser to the boss). The consigliere post actually is intended to serve the family membership, by granting a channel of communication from soldiers to the boss.
Contract (n.)
An old-time term referring to an order to murder an individual.
Cosa Nostra (prop.n.)
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 (n.)
Translated "gang," this term is typically used to refer to a Mafia organization in Sicily. Equivalent to "borgata."
Crew (n.)
A body of soldiers assigned to a capo. The crew typically meets on a regular basis at the capo's headquarters.
Crumb (n.)
Old-time term for a member of "legit" society. A working man.

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Do Up (v.)
Mafia's 19th Century slang for murder. "Go find Benny and do him up."
Don (n.)
A traditional term of respect for a male in Romance languages, which has been corrupted in some circles to refer to Mafia bosses.
Dough (n.)
Money, especially the ill-gotten variety.
Drop (n.)
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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Earner (n.)
One who generates income for a Mafia family. Higher levels of income are generated by "big-earners."
Enforcer (n.)
Member of a criminal organization who uses violence/murder to achieve the objectives of the boss.

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Family (n.)
The basic unit of the Mafia society. See "Borgata."
Father (n.)
Antiquated term for the leader of a Mafia family. See "Boss."
Featherbedding (n.)
The practice of assigning more union workers to a project than necessary.
Feds (n.)
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 (n., v.)
One who trades in stolen goods. To sell off swag.
Finger (v.)
Indicate for a hit man that a certain individual is the target of a murder assignment.
Fix (n., v.)
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 (v.)
To abandon the principle of "omerta" and begin to cooperate with law enforcement.
Friend of Ours (n.)
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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Gat (n.)
A handgun.
Ghost Payroll (n.)
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 (n.)
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 (n.)
Term of affection and respect.
Grease (v.)
See "buy."

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Heat (n.)
Intense attention from law enforcement and/or media. A firearm.
Heater (n.)
Firearm.
Heavy (adj.)
Armed.
Hit (n., v.)
An assigned murder. To perform an assigned murder.
Hit the Mattresses (v.)
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.
Honored Society (prop.n.)
The Mafia.
Hot Goods (n.)
Stolen merchandise.

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

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Joint (n.)
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 (n.)
The loansharking racket. The "vig" or profit made on sports bookmaking or loansharking activities.
Junk (n.)
Narcotics. A drug trafficker is said to be in the "junk business."

K

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Knock Off (v.)
Kill.
Knock Over (v.)
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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La Cosa Nostra (prop.n.)
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 (v.)
Act inconspicuously or stay out of sight.
LCN (prop.n.)
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 (adj.)
Legal business endeavors. A distinction applied by members of the underworld to the activities of non-criminals.
Loan Shark (n.)
A financial racketeer who loans money at usurious interest rates. Loan sharks often arrange payment terms that never reduce the loan principal. Those who fail to make regular payments are disciplined with violence. Also "shylock."

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Made (adj.)
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 (n.)
A person or place targeted for criminal activity.
Marker (n.)
A notation of a debt. An IOU.
Meet (n.)
Meeting.
Men of Honor / Men of Respect (n.)
An older term referring to Sicilian Mafiosi. The term emphasizes a link between the Mafia and Sicily's displaced old aristocracy.
Messaggero (n.)
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 (prop.n.)
Derogatory nickname of the Los Angeles, CA, Mafia family.
Muscle (v., n.)
Intimidate. Also those who function as underworld thugs.
Muscle In (v.)
Invade a rival's racket or territory through force.
Mustache Pete (prop.n.)
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.

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

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Off the Record (adj.)
Description relating to profits retained by a mobster from an illicit business venture, without kicking up a share to his superiors.
Office (prop.n.)
Nickname for the New England Mafia.
Omerta (n.)
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 Arm
Not paid for. Obtained on credit.
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 (prop.n.)
Chicago slang name for the local Mafia family.

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Packing (adj.)
Armed with a concealed handgun.
Paper Local (n.)
A chartered union local that has administrators and voting power but no legitimate membership or reason for existence. Paper locals are known to have played a role in Teamster Union elections.
Partnership (prop.n.)
A nickname for the Detroit Mafia family.
Piece (n.)
A percentage of profit from illicit business ventures. Also a handgun.
Piece of Work (n.)
An assigned murder.
Pinch (n., v.)
Arrest.
Points (n.)
Interest paid on a shylock loan. Also known as "vig" or "shy."
Pop (v.)
Kill.
Protection (n.)
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

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Rat (v., n.)
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."
Roscoe (n.)
Old-time slang term for a handgun.
Rub out (v.)
Kill.

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Score (v.)
To profit from a criminal endeavor.
Shake Down (v.)
Obtain money or other concessions from businesses or individuals by using intimidation or extortion.
Shylock (n.)
A loan shark.
Show-up Time (n.)
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 (n.)
A meeting, perhaps called to settle a "beef."
Skim (n., v.)
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 (n.)
See capo.
Snitch (n., v.)
Traitor to the underworld. See "stool pigeon."
Soldati (n.)
Soldiers. The lowest rank of formal Mafia membership.
Standup Guy (n.)
An individual who observes the principles of omerta even when it brings harm to himself.
Stool Pigeon (n.)
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 (adj.)
Older term for uncriminal behavior. A man who gave up crime and took a regular job "went straight."
Straighten Out (v.)
Resolve a dispute. Formally induct a Mafia member.
Swag (n.)
Stolen goods.

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Table (n.)
A meeting or sit-down.
Tail (n., v.)
A law enforcement officer who is tracking an individual's movement.
Territory (n.)
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 (n.)
Nickname for the Thompson submachine gun popular with some Prohibition Era gangsters.

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Underboss (n.)
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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Vendetta (n.)
A pledge of personal vengeance on an enemy. The vendetta is a solemn and secret vow.
Vig (n.)
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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War (n.)
Violent confrontation between underworld organizations.
Whack (v.)
Murder.
Wire (n.)
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 (n.)
A "made" member of a Mafia organization.

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Z

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Zips (n.)
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.