Printable Version
Pronunciation: o-mer-tah Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. The Mafia code of honor, which demands unconditional loyalty and stonewalling police investigations under penalty of death to informers. 2. Any code of silence, any unwritten law to not speak a word about clandestine activities, to stonewall all investigations.

Notes: This word is a lexical orphan, without any family at all. Some dictionaries allow the Italian spelling, omertà, with a grave cap on the final A. Wikipedia gives us a plural form, omertas.

In Play: We live with omerta in in various organizations: "Investigating police brutality to black Americans is hampered by the omerta of the police." Omerta is encouraged by the Internet: "Omerta is made easier by the anonymity of the Web."

Word History: Today's Good Word is an adoptive Italian word, omertà, a dialectal variant of umilta "humility", in reference to individual submission to the Mafia. This word originates in Latin humilitas "lowness, insignificance, baseness, meekness", from humilis "lowly, humble", literally "on the ground", from humus "earth, soil". Latin inherited this word from PIE ghem-/ghom "earth", source also of Spanish hombre "man". Omertà was probably influenced by Sicilian omu "man". Both the Spanish and Sicilian words came from Latin homo, hominis "man, person". The PIE word also produced Sanskrit ksam- "earth", Greek khthon "the earth, ground" and khamai "on the ground", Latin humus "earth, soil", Lithuanian žemè: "earth", and Russian zemlja "earth". (We have no omerta at alphaDictionary, so let's openly thank Rob Towart for yet another fascinating lexical find and suggesting it for today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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