by Henry Farrell on March 17, 2008

A request for help from Italian speakers (esp. those familiar with Sicilian dialect). I’m currently finishing writing my book, which has a chapter on the internal norms of the Sicilian mafia (this adds some much needed savour to my copious discussions of the somewhat less colorful norms governing manufacturers of packaging machinery). One of my key sources is a qualitative database that Diego Gambetta has put together of various interesting bits from the confessions of _pentiti_ and other sources. Among which is this very intriguing bit from former senior mafioso Tommaso Buscetta (my translation)

Whatever is recounted by a man of honor in the presence of two other men of honor must always be truthful. He who breaks this rule, given that he has the option of not speaking, is liable to the most serious penalties, and to losing his life. In this case, the man of honor who has broken this rule comes to be referred to as a “trageghiaturi.”

The problem is that I have no idea what a trageghiaturi might be. Nor does my Italian dictionary, or a Google search help (but it’s not inconceivable that this could be a mistranscription). Anyone have any idea what it is? Your reward, should you choose to claim it, will be a grateful acknowledgment in the final product …



dsquared 03.17.08 at 5:23 pm

“tragediaturi” shows up a lot on the internet, and in at least one context on google books where it appears in a passage which looks like the one you’ve got quoted above, so I’m guessing transcription error. I don’t speak Italian though, so you’re on your own for “tragediaturi”, sorry.


dsquared 03.17.08 at 5:26 pm


Tommaso Sciortino 03.17.08 at 5:27 pm

I phoned up my mom who grew up in Sicily and she reports that it’s almost certainly the word meaning “someone who makes a big tragedy out of every little thing”. The implication is that the person is a serial exaggerator i.e. a liar.


Kieran Healy 03.17.08 at 5:27 pm

That paragraph looks to be the same one that Henry gives the translation for.


dsquared 03.17.08 at 5:27 pm

And the Babelfish translation of this article seems to gloss it as a criminal version of “gossip”.


Tommaso Sciortino 03.17.08 at 5:29 pm

“tragediaturi” Is pretty much what my mom pronounced it but I didn’t risk trying to spell it before. The Sicilian dialect its difficult even for native speakers to spell.


Tommaso Sciortino 03.17.08 at 5:31 pm

If you want to cite me it’s probably better to give my mom the credit. E-mail me for her name.


RICKM 03.17.08 at 5:31 pm

Ask Jonah Goldberg.



Henry 03.17.08 at 5:32 pm

Sorted within 9 minutes. God bless the internets!!!


Henry 03.17.08 at 5:43 pm

Looks like shared credit for dsquared and tommaso then. Thanks!


edward barker 03.17.08 at 6:05 pm

It’s sicilian dialect of the italian word ‘traghettatore’, which means ‘ferryman’. A traghettarore can be a negotiator or a betrayer.


dario 03.17.08 at 6:54 pm

Tragediaturi in this context means “lier”.
Such is who makes “tragedies”, i.e. makes up stories, so lies, in brief.

It seems though there are many flavors for this word, depending on the Sicilian province.

You can find more on the following link.


dsquared 03.17.08 at 7:16 pm

By the way, what a coincidence that this year St Patrick’s Day should fall on the traditional Welsh holiday of “Ail Dydd y Gamp Fawr”, we can have a double celebration.


gs 03.17.08 at 7:27 pm

hope this isn’t too much information:

from a quote (taken from by a prominent Sicilian writer (Camilleri)

in the dialect spoken around porto empedocle, “tragediatori” is a big prankster;

Camilleri also mentions Sciascia’s Kermesse in passing, where it is said that a tragediaturi, in Palermo, is someone who “worries their family,” while around Sciascia’s Racalmuto is an “enemy of oneself.”


Kieran Healy 03.17.08 at 8:04 pm

“Ail Dydd y Gamp Fawr”

I’ve heard of this holiday. My understanding is that it falls twice in five years every thirty years or so.


dsquared 03.17.08 at 8:50 pm

one Warren Gatland, there’s only one Warren Gatland.


SG 03.18.08 at 1:38 am

So would the direct English translation of this be “Tragedarian”?


Bernard Yomtov 03.18.08 at 2:32 am

the traditional Welsh holiday of “Ail Dydd y Gamp Fawr”

Before planning the party, may we ask what Ail Dydd y Gamp Fawr celebrates?


Kieran Healy 03.18.08 at 4:20 am

The Welsh winning the Grand Slam. (Had they lost I am sure we’d be hearing the usual line about League being superior to Union, but adaptability to circumstances is an important skill.)


dsquared 03.18.08 at 7:57 am

I still do think League is superior to Union, but we can have that conversation when Ireland unaccountably sacks the coach of their winning Rugby League side on the say-so of a few over-mighty players with dodgy knees and then implodes.


engels 03.18.08 at 4:51 pm

Strictly speaking, there was no St. Patrick’s day this year, at least in England.


Henry 03.18.08 at 5:49 pm

thanks to all above again – very helpful (esp. the link to the article).


roac 03.18.08 at 9:28 pm

Question asked from a position of near-total ignorance: Why is there more than one brand of rugby, anyway?


SG 03.19.08 at 1:55 am

roac: so the English can have claim to have 2 sports they are passably good at. And so they can lose the game to only 1 southern hemisphere nation, not all of them.


Ellis Goldberg 03.19.08 at 1:45 pm

Perhaps off the wall but the original orthography suggested an Arabic origin to me with the “g” sound being the Arabic ghayn and the “gh” sound the Arabic r (=French “r”). This is a little confusing since the standard English transcription reverses these sounds and “gh” = ghayn while the English “r” is used for the Arabic “r.” Anyway there is an Arabic word gharir (plural aghirra) that means deceived. This seems close to the meaning involved in the Italian and might work as a sicilianification of an underlying word drawn from Arabic. Or again perhaps not.

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