Martorano bristled at one typical bit of mob slang: “hit man,” a term for a hired killer first noted in Eric Partridge’s 1963 “Dictionary of the Underworld.” Even though Martorano had collaborated with Carr on “Hitman,” he said he didn’t identify with the term, because it implied that he was paid for killings on a contract basis. He also claimed he didn’t “rat” on Connolly when he testified against him, because “you can’t rat on a rat.” (“Rat” meaning “informant” goes all the way back to 1818.) There’s no moment like the one where you’re on the witness stand, apparently, to open up ancient crimespeak to reinterpretation.
Ben Zimmer is the executive producer of VisualThesaurus.com and Vocabulary.com. He can be reached at benzimmer.com/contact.