New York words, speech (1929, 1938 articles)

Kathleen E. Miller millerk at NYTIMES.COM
Tue Nov 19 15:12:25 UTC 2002

At 03:21 AM 11/19/2002 -0500, you wrote:
>Strangest of all New York's coined words and idioms, perhaps, is "black
>hand."  James P. McCarthy, a reporter on the old "New York Herald," made it
>up and applied it to a Mafia ring which had committed a murder in Brooklyn.
>(Possibly true.  Perhaps the HERALD TRIBUNE would know about the HERALD.
>Hey, the article has to get one right--ed.)

The Black Hand handle for a secret society of anarchist or killers goes
back to the 1880's at least. There was one in Spain as early as 1883. The
most famous "black hand" in my mind is the group to which Gavril Princip,
the Serbian assassin of the Archduke in Sarajevo in 1914, belonged.

The OED gives 1898 for the Spanish one. The Times has a hit on March 1, 1883,
"The Society of the Black Hand and the Troubles in Andulsia." ..."He
declared that a society called the 'black hand,' similar to the
Internationale, existed." (Some say that it was a conspiracy and a rouse of
the Spanish Police and that it never really existed - still La Mano Negra -
what ever it was, inflicted terror for about 25 years.)

Although McCarthy might have been the first to write it down concerning the
"Italian" Black Hand that terrorized New York in the early 1900's, he by no
means "made it up." Threats and letters were sent to people with a "black
hand" as the signature. (sometimes allegedly in red ink, sometimes with a
skull an crossbones) as early as 1904 in New York. It seems only logical
that if that was their "signature" that would be what they were called. And
its probable they got their idea from the earlier "group" in Spain.

Kathleen E. Miller
Research Assistant to William Safire
The New York Times

More information about the Ads-l mailing list