The concept of a mafia has deep ties to Italy, with the word "mafia" first being used to describe independent paramilitary groups on the Italian island of Sicily, and while Italian-American mafias generally operate as sovereign entities, these organizations take cultural influence from Italy. For example, though American mobsters typically do not have direct connections to Italian mafia members, Italian-American mafias tend to use Italian mafia words and concepts such as "omerta," a code of conduct that forbids mafia members from providing information to the government. The word "mafia" itself has strong ties to Italy; though the word has taken on an English meaning, "mafia" is a Sicilian Italian word, an adjective that describes a blend of elegance and courage.
Italian-American mafia activities may be referred to with Italian words such as "Cosa Nostra," a term also applied in Sicily that translates to "our thing." However, the fact that there are common threads between Italian and American mafia activities does not mean that the two spheres of activity are directly connected. Each group tends to be concerned with operations taking place within their own countries. The term "mafia" has developed an all-purpose meaning in English as a term that applies to any organized crime group.