Someone once mentioned to me (must have been a Sicilian patriot or something) that in some kind of ancient long-forgotten Sicilian slang the word "mafia" actually meant "Death to the French!"

I mean, it stands to reason. There are rumors that the Cosa Nostra was born on the very night when all Sicilians, or all Sicilians worth speaking of, anyway, rose as one and wiped out all businessmen from Anjou in Palermo and elsewhere to keep them from oppressing them economically. Or something. There's a very popular opera by Giuseppe Verdi on the subject. For obvious reasons, there is no French opera on the same subject.

The word "mafia" has been an English word for quite a while; thus, the question is legitimate: could it be true? Was it really Sicilian initially, and did it really mean "Death to the French!"? I've heard other stories ... I mean, versions ... but this one is awfully romantic, and we're all romantics at heart. Any thoughts and/or facts?

  • 1
    Yes, I'm familiar with this theory too.
    – Ricky
    Nov 10, 2015 at 3:05
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    You will find this answer at the given link. "According to one legend, the origin of the word began with the French invasion of Sicily in 1282, and the saying ‘Morte Alla Francia Italia Anela!’ (‘Death to the French is Italy’s Cry! ’) or M.A.F.I.A." Read more at: economictimes.indiatimes.com/articleshow/…
    – user333791
    Jan 27, 2019 at 16:56
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this is a question about Sicilian dialect, not English.
    – David
    Jan 28, 2019 at 19:43
  • Actually, the quote you mentioned said..."..according to the legend", and is not reliable. Jan 28, 2019 at 21:39

1 Answer 1


Oxford English Dictionary has the following:

Etymology: < Italian mafioso, probably re-formed (as if < mafia mafia n. + ‑oso ‑ous suffix) < mafiuso (1862 in G. Rizzotto I mafiusi della Vicaria) probably < Italian regional (Sicily) mafiusu, further etymology uncertain and disputed.

Italian regional (Sicily) mafiusu is perhaps a blend of marfusu scoundrel and marfiuni, marpiuni cheat (Italian marpione; ultimately < French morpion morpion n.); Italian regional (Sicily) marfusu (Italian †malfusso rascal; 15th‑cent.) is < Spanish marfuz renegade, traitor (1330) < Arabic marfūḍ outcast, reprobate, passive participle of rafaḍa refuse to accept, reject.

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