The Language of the Mafia
Mobspeak is a language that grows out of secrecy, and who can be more secret than the Mafia? The anti-social nature of the Mob is the perfect breeding ground for an "Antilanguage," which is, according to M. A. K. Halliday, a language that develops out of an antisociety which stands as a mode of resistance' to the society within which it exists (Butler 1). In his 1976 article, Halliday suggests that in these societies, a type of language forms in an effort to exclude outsiders for various reasons. One striking reason for the existence of an antilanguage is to hide the activities of the group. Halliday gives evidence for this claim through the existence of Elizabethan thieves cant, a form of communication derived in the Calcuttan underworld that thieves use to speak to one another without fear of incriminating themselves. Similarly, the Mafia -- which is often the target of FBI wire-taps -- requires its own thieves cant. The Mob constantly tries to hide its activities from the authorities. One way to accomplish this goal is to use somewhat cryptic vocabulary. For instance, there are over twenty words for the verb to kill'. If someone were to disrespect The Family' somebody might do a piece of work on' him. He could get whacked, erased, burned, clipped, iced, or hit -- just to name a few.
In order to have a full understanding of the Mafia's unique use of language it is necessary to realize the context in which it is used. The Mafia's major business is providing "protection" for merchants in their territory. Basically, they insure that no other criminals will give any of their clients trouble. However, when anything comes under mob protection, the Mafia considers itself its "owner". They do not offer it protection from themselves. They force restaurants, nightclubs, and bars under their protection. Once they "own" an establishment they immediately run it into the ground, often by frequenting the restaurant, etc., and running up tabs they have no intentions of paying. The actual owners are held in check by intimidation. In WiseGuy, a non-fiction account of Mafia life, Nicholas Pileggi quotes a Mafia member, describing the manner in which the Mafia treats those they "own":
"Then, after a few weeks, when the tabs got to be a few grand, the owner would come over. He'd try to be polite. But no matter how nice he tried to be, we'd always make it into a war. `You fuck!' we'd scream. `After all the business we brought you! You got the nerve to embarrass me in front of my friends? Call me a deadbeat? You fuck, you're dead. You miserable bastard cocksucker....' And so forth and so forth.
(Henry Hill -- WiseGuy)
However, the protection from others the Mafia provides is absolutely unequaled. This is accomplished through the systematic intimidation of everyone who would be prone to harassing their protected businesses. The Mafia is extremely rough with people that they perceive as a "problem", often using "hits" as a...