ca·​mor·​ra kə-ˈmȯr-ə How to pronounce camorra (audio)
: a group of persons united for dishonest or dishonorable ends
especially : a secret organization formed about 1820 at Naples, Italy

Examples of camorra in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web In the struggling city of Naples, stereotyped by other Italians as superstitious and controlled by the camorra, Maradona was received like a homecoming god. Jo Livingstone, The New Republic, 8 Dec. 2021

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'camorra.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


borrowed from Italian, from Italian dialect (Naples) camorra, gamorra, earlier, "gambling, a game of chance, place where gamblers gather," of uncertain origin

Note: The earliest attestation of camorra is in a decree of 1735 by the Bourbon king Charles VII restricting legal gambling in Naples to eight locations, among which one is designated "camorra avanti palazzo" ("camorra in front of the palace"), alluding to the Royal Palace in central Naples. In 1765 the word is found in a macaronic poem urging the king to remove sanctions on "la camorra" and other games of chance. Uses of camorra in its modern sense only start to appear with the collapse of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in 1860 amid the beginnings of Italian unification. In 1873 the Neapolitan poet and scholar Raffaele D'Ambra characterized the camorra as "a secret society or gang of oppressors, prompters [?], thieves, who exact tribute and arbitrary taxes on their behalf in prisons, soldiers' barracks, gaming houses, and the small-scale markets of urban and rural industries" ("setta, combriccola di soverchiatori, buriassi, ladri, che esigono taglie ed imposte arbitrarie a lor nome nelle carceri, ne' quartieri di soldati, nelle case di giuoco, e ne' mercati di minuto traffico di industrie rurali ed urbane," Vocabolario napolitano-toscano domestico di arti e mestieri, Naples). Several attempts have been made to illuminate the origin of the word, none completely persuasive. A repeated hypothesis in the mid-twentieth century, now apparently abandoned, saw the word as a compound of ca-, shortened from cata-, an intensive prefix, and Neapolitan mmorra "troop, band, squadron." More recently, camorra has been taken hypothetically as a back-formation from an unattested agent noun *camorraro "gambler, person extorting a fine from gamblers." In this regard Francesco Montuori has considered the possible relevance of a cant word camorone "tax collector," attested in central Italy in the fifteenth century, and a verb camorrare "to commit outrages" recorded in Basilicata in 1580 (see his Lessico e camorra [Naples, 2008]). The Lessico etimologico italiano also treats camorra as a back-formation from an agent noun, though without specifying the particulars. The Lessico editors draw attention to the entry camurrista in the Vocabolario etimologico siciliano of Michele Pasqualino (Palermo, 1785), which derives the agent noun camurrista, glossed "custode de' giuocatori" ("custodian of gamblers") directly from camera "room, living quarters": "Da camera, camerista, camurrista, per essere il custode della camera, dove giuocano i giuocatori" ("… being the custodian of the camera, where the gamblers play"). Yet another hypothesis supposes that camorra as a space or locale was crossed with a different word, gamurra (with variants camurra, gamarra), denoting an item of clothing, and used in an idiom far camorra "to cheat, swindle," literally, "to make a gamurra"; then a shift of sense would have to be assumed from "cheating at games of chance" to "extortionate practices in gambling" to the consortium of individuals controlling such extortion, first in gambling houses, then extended to other settings (markets, barracks, prisons, brothels).

First Known Use

1860, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of camorra was in 1860

Dictionary Entries Near camorra

Cite this Entry

“Camorra.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 May. 2024.

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