Omertà

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johnny tightlips

Omertà [aw-mer-tah] is a popular attitude and code of honor, common in areas of southern Italy where criminal organizations like the Mafia, ‘Ndrangheta, and Camorra are strong. A common definition is the ‘code of silence.’ Omertà implies ‘the categorical prohibition of cooperation with state authorities or reliance on its services, even when one has been victim of a crime.’ Even if somebody is convicted for a crime he has not committed, he is supposed to serve the sentence without giving the police any information about the real criminal, even if that criminal has nothing to do with the Mafia himself. Within Mafia culture, breaking omertà is punishable by death.

The code was adopted by Sicilians long before the emergence of Cosa Nostra (some observers date it to the 16th century as a way of opposing Spanish rule). It is also deeply rooted in rural Crete, Greece. The origin of the word is often traced to the Spanish word ‘hombredad,’ meaning manliness, through the Sicilian word ‘omu’ for man. According to a different theory, the word comes from Latin ‘humilitas’ (humility), which became ‘umirtà’ and then finally omertà in some southern Italian dialects.

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