Monday 24 January 2011

mush, bagels & duckling

'Real names didn't mean anything to these guys. They didn't introduce by last names. I knew guys that had been hanging out together for five or ten years and did not know each other's last names. Nobody cares. You were introduced by a first name or a nickname. If you don't volunteer somebody's last name, nobody'll ask you. That's just the code. The feeling is, if you wanted me to know a name, you would have told me' - Joe Pistone (AKA 'Donnie Brasco').

The recent arrest in the New York region and in Sicily of more than 120 reputed Mafiosi from the five big families - Gambino, Colombo, Genovese, Bonanno, Luchese, as well as deCavalcante, di Maggio, Mannino, Inzerillo - brings to light some new 'made men' nicknames.

As a kind of addendum to an earlier post about Mafia names ('Little Charles the Cat Eater', 16 October 2008) - and with a nod at recent news that undercover British policeman Mark Kennedy's nickname among the environmentalists he infiltrated for 7 years was 'Flash' - the list below is drawn from last week's mass federal indictments in the US, in the wake of the FBI operation named 'Mafia Takedown'.

Luigi Manocchio ('The Old Man', 'The Professor, and 'Baby Shacks' - so named purportedly because of his frequent liaisons with women); Vincenzo Frogiero ('Vinny Carwash'); Anthony Cavezza ('Tony Bagels'); Joseph Carna ('Junior Lollipops'), Jack Rizzocascio ('Jack the Whack'), Bartolomeo Vernace ('Bobby Glasses'), Andrew Russo ('Mush'), Benjamin Castellazzo ('The Claw' or 'The Fang'), Dennis deLucia ('Fat Dennis' or 'The Beard').

Also, 'Johnny Cash', 'Baby Fat Larry', 'Johnny Pizza', 'Lumpy', 'The Bull', 'Meatball', 'Louis Ices', 'Marbles', and 'Skinny'.

Meanwhile, I've been reading sociologist Diego Gambetta's fascinating Codes Of The Underworld: How Criminals Communicate (Princeton University Press, 2009), which devotes a chapter to nicknames. There's a great section about derogatory Sicilian nicknames, triggered by the fact that the Sicilian word for nickname - 'nciuri - means 'abuse'. Gambetta writes, for example, about a fishmonger known as Gioiellere ('The Jeweller') because his merchandise was said to be as expensive as diamonds.

Gambetta also explores some Mafioso names I haven't come across before, metonymies inspired by physical features: u'Buttigghiuni ('Large Bottle'), Faccia di Pala ('Shovel Face'), Cosce Affumate ('Smoked Thighs'), Scillone ('Pendulum'), Mussu di Ficurindia ('Prickly Pear Mouth'), and Pinzetta ('Tweezers'). Others related to psychological or behavioural features include: Farfagnedda ('Stammer'), Tempesta ('Storm'), Parrapicca ('Few Words'), and Abbruciamontagna ('Burnt Mountain', hot temper). And then there are the hit men whose names are stripped of threatening connotations: Scarpuzzedda ('Little Shoe'), Anatreddu ('Duckling') and il Ragioniere ('The Accountant') ...

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