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Mafia

or Maf·fi·a

[mah-fee-uh, maf-ee-uh]
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noun
  1. a hierarchically structured secret organization allegedly engaged in smuggling, racketeering, trafficking in narcotics, and other criminal activities in the U.S., Italy, and elsewhere.
  2. (in Sicily)
    1. (lowercase)a popular spirit of hostility to legal restraint and to the law, often manifesting itself in criminal acts.
    2. a 19th-century secret society, similar to the Camorra in Naples, that acted in this spirit.
  3. (often lowercase) any small powerful or influential group in an organization or field; clique.
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Origin of Mafia

1870–75; < Italian < Sicilian: orig., elegance, bravura, courage; of obscure origin; the word's history prior to the 19th century is unknown, though many fictitious ideas have circulated regarding its age, source, etc., due to the organization's modern notoriety
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for mafia

Mafia

Maffia

noun
  1. the Mafia an international secret organization founded in Sicily, probably in opposition to tyranny. It developed into a criminal organization and in the late 19th century was carried to the US by Italian immigrants
  2. any group considered to resemble the MafiaSee also Black Hand, Camorra, Cosa Nostra
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Word Origin

C19: from Sicilian dialect of Italian, literally hostility to the law, boldness, perhaps from Arabic mahyah bragging
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for mafia

n.

1875, from Italian Mafia "Sicilian secret society of criminals" (the prevailing sense outside Sicily), earlier, "spirit of hostility to the law and its ministers," from Italian (Sicilian) mafia "boldness, bravado," probably from Arabic mahjas "aggressive, boasting, bragging." Or perhaps from Old French mafler "to gluttonize, devour." A member is a mafioso (1870), fem. mafiosa, plural mafiosi.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

mafia in Culture

Mafia

[(mah-fee-uh)]

A criminal organization that originated in Sicily and was brought to the United States by Italian immigrants in the late nineteenth century. The Mafia is also called the Syndicate, the Mob, and the Cosa Nostra (Our Thing). The Mafia built its power through extortion (forcing tradesmen and shopkeepers to buy Mafia protection against destruction) and by dominating the bootlegging industry (the illegal production and distribution of liquor) during Prohibition. Members of the Mafia often lead outwardly respectable lives and maintain a variety of legitimate businesses as a front, or cover, for their criminal activities, which include extortion, gambling, and narcotics distribution.

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The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.