Collins' way with words miffs Mafia stronghold

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The Independent Online
The citizens of Reggio Calabria are furious, and all because of the Collins English Dictionary. Anyone thinking of visiting the city, on the tip of the Italian boot, would do well to keep any copies of the offending publication out of sight for fear of a lynching. Misinformed, malicious, sneaky, virulently racist - such are some of the milder words being used about HarperCollins these days.

The reason? Collins put out a press release listing a few of the new words and phrases they have come across in recent research and will now consider for inclusion in the next edition. One phrase was "Reggio Calabria Syndrome", to define the mysterious symptoms affecting gangsters and others living in Mafia-controlled areas.

The term was picked up from Channel 4's Europe Express and referred to research by Francesco Aragona, a professor at the University of Messina who has examined the corpses of mafia victims in the Reggio area and discovered their organs show the sort of stress levels more commonly associated with 70-year-old stroke or heart-attack victims.

Sticking the label "Reggio Calabria Syndrome" on to this phenomenon might seem harmless enough but does not take into account the touchiness of Italians when it comes to the judgement, or perceived judgement, of foreigners. "This is a piece of pseudo-culture that ...presumes to make judgements that have no relationship to reality," said the city's deputy bishop, Salvatore Nunnari.

Never mind that Reggio is regularly cited as the murder capital of Italy, or that this week its most prominent anti-Mafia magistrate said his efforts to fight organised crime were on the brink of collapse.

Much of the indignation has centred on the notion that Collins would put such a phrase in their dictionary on the basis of a mere television program-me. Some of the critics might be surprised to know that Collins feels the same way. "With only citation, we wouldn't dream of putting it in," said the dictionary's managing editor, Diana Treffry.

Which rather takes the venom out of the affair, though you would not know it from the Italian reaction. Someone had better pass the message on quickly, before the high stress levels down south mutate from Reggio Calabria Syndrome into a life-threatening case of Aggravated Collins Syndrome.

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