From Italian omertà – even though a further etymology is disputed – italianization of Sicilian umirtà (“the quality of being humble, quiet, soft”). Some see it as a southern dialectal variant of umiltà (“humility”), from Latin humilitās, from humilis (“humble”), from humus (“ground, soil”), in which case it is a doublet of humility. Other sources (as the OED) interpret it as a Sicilian calque (loan translation) of Spanish hombredad (“manliness”), altered to fit Sicilian omu (“man”); in this latter case though “ummirità” should be the natural phonological output.
- (crime) A code of silence amongst members of a criminal organization (especially the Mafia) that forbids divulging insider secrets to law enforcement, often also followed outside of the organization in fear of retaliation; (by extension) any code of silence.
- Synonym: Sicilian code
- 2005 March 4, Boston Globe:
- Patriarca pleaded guilty in December 1991 to racketeering and conspiracy charges, but he refused to admit he was a member of the Mafia, clinging to his vow of ‘omerta’ to the secret organization.
- 2006 October 27, Los Angeles Times:
- There was a time that high-profile killings such as the 1968 assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. brought passionate cries for limitations on handguns. A bipartisan omerta now smothers the issue.
- 2016 October, “How the FDA Manipulates the Media”, in Scientific American:
- The FDA was not pleased that the omertà had been broken.
- 2023 October 6, Heather Stewart, quoting Sadiq Khan, “‘Choose London’: Sadiq Khan steps up efforts to lure EU citizens post-Brexit”, in The Guardian, →ISSN:
- Despite criticising what he called an “omertà” in British politics about Brexit, he expressed some sympathy for the Labour leader Keir’s wariness about the issue.
omertà f (invariable)
- (rare, dialectal, southern Italy) Alternative form of
- (crime) an omertà or any code of silence
- Synonym: (wall of silence) reticenza
- (by extension, derogatory) a form of solidarity among members of a group, consisting in hiding compromising truths; a wall of silence
- omertà in Treccani.it – Vocabolario Treccani on line, Istituto dell'Enciclopedia Italiana
Ultimately, a doublet of umiltati (“humility, humbleness”). Possibly borrowed, or at least influenced, from Italian omertà, itself from Neapolitan. Possibly later reanalyzed by mafiosi as deriving from omu (“man”), thus implying that people who are not reticent are not men, thus cowards.
omertà f (uncountable)
- Traina, Antonino (1868), “omertà”, in Nuovo vocabolario Siciliano-Italiano [New Sicilian-Italian vocabulary] (in Italian), Liber Liber, published 2020, page 2821