In the film Gangs of New York, what is this word spoken?

It sounds like benay. What does it mean? The subtitles don't have anything for this word.

5 Answers 5


If you log into IMSDB (The Intenet Movie Script Database) you'll find the script: http://www.imsdb.com/scripts/Gangs-of-New-York.html. Look for masterscene header 7, and in that scene Vallon says bene, which is Italian for good, or probably it this context, it expresses well.


He's saying "Bene" which is Latin for "good".

He's addressing what looks like some kind of Catholic priest or mock-priest, which may have prompted the Latin.



From Middle English bene, from Old English bēn (“prayer, request, petition, favour, compulsory service”),




"Bene" is Italian rather than Latin, commonly heard in cities where there were Italian immigrants. In The Godfather, Luca Brasi is offered a job with a rival family to the Corleones. He asks how much he'll be paid, and when they tell him, he says, "Bene", meaning "Fine".


The answers here have the right interpretation of the word bene (good), but in my opinion, they have missed the mark on the origin. Here's the possible origins, in reverse order of likelihood (in my opinion.)


The word was used by an Irish-Catholic priest and his son, so it is unlikely to be an Italian usage. One might make the argument that the word was part of general NYC slang at the time, but I find that unsatisfying because the majority of Italian immigration to the States happened after Italian unification in 1871, while the movie is set in 1846/1862.


The word could also be used in the Latin sense, because an Irish-Catholic priest gang leader may indeed have knowledge of Latin, but I also find that unlikely in the context the word is used directly in that way.

Thieves' Cant

I think it's ultimately lower-class slang. Although there aren't many other instances of very obscure slang that I recall in the script, I think that the usage of bene is very idiosyncratic, and clearly understood by the other underworld characters. This is the Gangs of New York, after all, and the word is used by the leader of an early 19th century criminal gang.

Here is the entry for bene in an 1899 publication of A New Dictionary of the Terms Ancient and Modern of the Canting Crew.

And via Project Gutenberg, Slang Dictionary Etymological Historical and Anecdotal (1913):

Bene, good. Benar, better.

So while I can't be certain that the word was chosen for this reason by the writers of the script, I presume they made some research into underworld slang of the time. I think they chose some link to this culture which would still be reasonably easy to interpret by a modern movie viewer.

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