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Life as I'm learning it

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Location: Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania, United States

"It little profits that an idle king, By this still hearth, among these barren crags, Match'd with an ag├Ęd wife, I mete and dole Unequal laws unto a savage race, That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me."

Saturday, July 08, 2006

The Battle Cry

I was discussing with a friend about how powerful movies can influence viewer thinking. The Godfather came up as one of the prime examples. It brought gangster-ism into popular culture. Books have been written about it, a slew of fantastic movies on similar lines sprang up in a short period. It made "mafia" a household term.

The word mafia is quite interesting. Many contend that it didn't exist in Italian until the 1850s. The Wikipedia article suggests the word should have been derived from the Sicilian adjective "mafioso" or "mafiusi", which has its origins in Arabic, the connotation being "a bully, arrogant but also fearless, enterprising, and proud". The word came to be associated with the secret criminal organization / society in the 1863 play about criminal gangs in the Palermo prison, I mafiusi di la Vicaria (The Beautiful People of Vicaria). The first official occurrence of the word was in 1865, in a report by a prosecutor, a certain Gualtiero

Opinion, however, is divided on whether tha above captures the real origin of the word. For example, some claim that mafia is a corruption of the Italian for "my family" -- mia familia. This is a plausible case of apocope, where some sounds in a term get lost in time, thus producing a new word. Mia familia explains in part the nature of the organization's structure.

Others give a different twist to it. They suggest that in olden days, when Sicily was under the grip of the French, a soldier dishonoured a young girl. In order to rouse the men of Sicily against the French, the girl's mother ran along the streets shouting "ma fia" (my daughter). Those who proffer this explanation give it a historical twist by linking it to the 1282 uprising of the Sicilians against the French.

Some others give another origin, and this has also to do with the French. As the Sicilians considered the French their mortal enemies, they formed a criminal organization, and named it "Morte Alla Francia Italia Anela", which means "Death to France, is Italy's cry". In time, the organization was referred to by the acronym, and hence MAFIA. This explanation makes the origin sound quite intelligent, but not really spontaneous. It is possible, of course, but I'm doubtful of its veracity.

Centuries ago, the Sicilians rose against the French. Given the odds, they may not have been successful, but they fought with their lives on the line. They had only one intention -- to defeat France.

Tomorrow, Cannavaro's men will take to the field against the French. This is a different battleground, but the stakes are just as high in this the Battle of Berlin. As in the case of the mafiosi, it is honour which is on the line. May the cry which emanated from the hills of Sicily in those hours of desperation feed the Azzuri with the strength to defeat their once-mortal-enemies. God bless. Arrivederci.


Anonymous Giuseppe said...

Came in via Google. Excellent blog. You've captured the feelings correctly. Italy must win against France today, and they will give their everything.

7/09/2006 03:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Came across your post. Nice one. I think the Wikipedia is right this time. The word-detective says "But the most likely source is simply the Sicilian dialect word "mafia," which means "boldness" or "bravado," possibly from the Arabic "mahjas," meaning "aggressive boasting" or "bragging."".

Check out the link for this word.

The word's association with the secret organization is probably the earliest recorded instance of a backronym.


7/09/2006 07:29:00 AM  

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