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Corruption and Extortion in Italian

Those of you who are not Italian, but read Italian newspapers, will often come across the words ‘corruzione‘ and ‘concussione‘.  Do you know what ‘concussione’ means?

No, it’s got nothing to do with being banged on the head, just in case you were wondering.  That would be far too simple.  Such a definition simply would not sit comfortably with the Italian propensity for complexity.  OK, I admit it, I was not too sure what this ‘concussione’ word was all about either.

So I asked my lawyers; not my lawyers as such, but the ones I’m teaching to write more respectably in English; and they kindly explained the difference, though only after tracking the word down in an Italian law dictionary and some discussion.  To be fair to them, they are mainly civil, not criminal law specialists.

In a moment, I’ll tell you a little more about the funny ‘concussione’ word, but first, a little revision.

Corruzione = Bribery

Corrupt Legislation, Vedder Highsmith
Corrupt Legislation, Vedder Highsmith

OK, so you probably guessed what the Italian word ‘corruzione‘ meant.  It’s quite a close relative of the English word ‘corruption‘, after all.  Corruption, in Italy and elsewhere, usually involves offering money in return for services or favors, and is otherwise known as ‘bribery’.

Concussione = approximately, Extortion

In common with the word ‘Corruzione’ which closely resembles the English word ‘corruption’, and means the same, the Italian word ‘concussione‘ also looks very like a word that is similar in English – ‘concussion‘.  However the relationship stops there.  Appearances, as we all know, can be deceptive.  The words ‘concussione’ and ‘concussion’ are what is known in the English teaching trade as ‘false friends’.

What the word ‘concussione’ actually means in Italian, or rather refers to, is the crime of a public official requesting money for services, or using his position to obtain favors or services – a practice which is also known as ‘extortion’ when public officers are not involved.  One translation of concussione is probably ‘graft’.

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An example would be when the local Italian planning officer says, ‘Of course we’ll grant you building permission, but it may take a little time.  However, if you make me an offer, say around 10% of the development value, I can ensure that things will progress very rapidly indeed.’.  You get the idea, I’m sure.

Another example might be when someone holding public office calls the police to pressure them into releasing someone else, as is alleged to have happened in the RubyGate case involving Italy’s current prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi  – who (15th February, 2011) faces charges of ‘concussione’.

As a matter of interest, ‘extortion‘ is ‘estorsione‘ in Italian, and carries the same meaning too.  It is not a false friend!  Confusing, isn’t it?

For the still lucid, ‘concussion’ in the medical sense is ‘commozione cerebrale‘ in Italian.

A Case of Concussione

A case involving both corruption and the dishonest receipt of money by public officials was mentioned on Italy Chronicles in the Romeo and the Politicians post.

In the Romeo case, the alpha male, Romeo, was allegedly doing the corrupting, while a couple of officials in the employ of Naples‘ municipal authority were apparently doing the extorting; possibly funded by good old Mr Romeo; and these two Neapolitan miscreants are now facing allegations of ‘concussione’.

In Italian, the word which would most probably be used to describe those involved in such illegal money making schemes, such as Romeo and Co., would be ‘furbo‘ – click on the word to read an old chestnut of mine on this fascinating Italian, er, concept.

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