I recently came across some terminology in the Godfather novel and do not understand the exact meaning behind the word. The appropriate quote from the novel is:

...The first person he called was Luca Brasi. There was no answer. Then he called the safety-valve caporegime in Brooklyn, a man of unquestioned loyalty to the Don. This man's name was Tessio.

I understand that caporegime within the Italian-American mafia is a rank within the family. I also understand what a safety valve is within other contexts (e.g. within pressure systems to release pressure to avoid a disaster). I have never heard the terminology referring to a person, however.

From context clues elsewhere in the novel, I think it might refer to someone who is used in emergencies. This also ties in with the pressure-system usage. It also seems to be used to describe other caporegimes in different scenarios, as opposed to just a one off. This made me think it's potentially an actual term/rank.

I would like to confirm the difference between a safety-valve caporegime and a regular caporegime. I'd also like to understand if this terminology is used for other people/contexts, as I've never heard it used in this way before. I'd also be interested if this is a real rank/use within the Italian-American mafia, though I understand that may be out of scope for English.SE.


1 Answer 1


Figuratively, it is something that does the job that a safety-valve does in a pressurized system.

In this case, the first person he called was not available, the situation could become a disaster, so call the safety-valve.

something in a system or situation that helps when problems become too great

  • 1
    The far more common term for this so-called safety valve is a fixer—also a cleaner in a specific set of circumstances. Like the character Quentin Tarantino played in Pulp Fiction when the protagonists had accidentally shot somebody in the back of their car, and needed to have the urgent situation resolved as quickly as possible. Jul 9, 2020 at 20:10
  • Yes. Do you mean Harvey Keitel? Quentin was the guy whose house they took went to.
    – Damila
    Jul 9, 2020 at 20:40
  • 2
    No, I meant Jimmie, the fixer, who's arguably most quoted line was: " I don't need you to tell me how f—ing good my coffee is, okay? I'm the one who buys it. I know how good it is. When Bonnie goes shopping she buys SH—. I buy the gourmet expensive stuff because when I drink it I want to taste it. But you know what's on my mind right now? It AIN'T the coffee in my kitchen, it's the dead n— in my garage." Tarantino played that role. Keitel was also involved, but Jimmie's the one they called. Jul 9, 2020 at 20:47
  • 1
    Totally unrelated to ELU, but we agree on who the characters are, but I think Mr, Wolfe was the fixer. They just show up at Jimmie's house, then SLJ calls Wallace and he sends The Wolf. Even in your quote, Jimmie is just like "Get this S cleaned up and get the F out of my house."
    – Damila
    Jul 9, 2020 at 20:55
  • 1
    Yes, you're right. I just spent another 5 minutes reading through various summaries and scripts. It turns out that they actually called Marsellus, who called in the Wolf. It was the Wolf who took the body to Tarantino's house. I had the right idea, just the wrong specific character. Jul 9, 2020 at 20:57

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