The Myth of “Sleeping with the Fishes”

The notion of mobsters sending their victims to “sleep with the fishes” by encasing them in concrete shoes has long been associated with mafia lore. However, reality often diverges from the myths.

Before exploring further, it’s crucial to clarify the terminology. Cement and concrete are not the same. Cement is a component used in concrete, which comprises various materials like sand, gravel, rocks, water, and other types of cement. The misleading term “cement shoes” often confuses the process of encasing someone in concrete. The process of creating “concrete shoes” involves submerging a person’s feet in wet concrete, allowing them to harden sufficiently to submerge them in water without their feet protruding. However, this method poses logistical challenges, from securely affixing the concrete around the feet to ensuring it dries to the right consistency.

Contrary to the widespread belief in mafia folklore, historical evidence doesn’t support the existence of actual killings executed in this manner. While legends of mafia hits involving concrete shoes persist, no confirmed cases exist where individuals were killed by this method.

While tales of victims being disposed of in water after being encased in concrete persist, evidence suggests these individuals were likely already deceased before being submerged. Historical cases, such as Ernest Rupolo’s discovery in 1964 and Johnnie Goodman’s fate in 1941, indicate bodies found tied to concrete blocks were likely dumped posthumously. One of the few documented incidents involving concrete shoes relates to gang member Peter Martinez, whose lifeless body surfaced in 2016. Detectives found Martinez bound with his feet encased in concrete and wrapped in plastic bags before being thrown into the ocean. However, this remains a rare exception rather than the rule, lacking evidence of this method being the cause of death.

Modern Metaphorical Usage

In contemporary language, the phrase “sleeping with the fishes” may metaphorically refer to legal cases where evidence or testimonies disappear or become submerged, leading to unsuccessful prosecution or unresolved investigations.

In the corporate world, the expression can symbolize instances where rival companies attempt to bury or hide damaging information about their practices, akin to the idea of concealing incriminating evidence by “sending it to the depths.”

Within political spheres, the phrase might describe situations where controversies or scandals are silenced or suppressed, leaving unresolved issues submerged or hidden from public scrutiny.

In popular culture, the phrase can be used metaphorically to depict instances in movies, literature, or media where characters face insurmountable challenges or threats that seem to obscure or bury them, akin to being “put to rest” by dangerous adversaries.

At the heart of the debate lies the ethical dilemma. Advocates argue that its colloquial usage is innocuous, divorced from historical connotations, and merely a colorful expression. Conversely, critics argue that employing such phrases trivializes serious criminal acts, potentially glamorizing or normalizing violent behavior.

Cultural Impact and Linguistic Significance

Discussions widen to examine its cultural impact and linguistic significance. Supporters highlight its role as a metaphorical tool enriching language, while detractors raise concerns about perpetuating stereotypes and glorifying mafia culture. The debate extends to its portrayal in media, questioning its influence on cultural understanding and potential misinformation.

Legal and Linguistic Boundaries

The debate further dissects the legal and linguistic boundaries of using such phrases. While some defend its right under freedom of speech and interpret it as a harmless idiom, others question its appropriateness in various settings, especially legal or professional contexts. This discourse scrutinizes how language shapes legal interpretations and societal norms.

Scrutiny intensifies concerning the phrase’s historical accuracy. Proponents assert its roots in mafia activities as a grim reality, while skeptics challenge its prevalence, citing limited concrete evidence of its widespread use in mob practices. The debate grapples with untangling fact from fiction, examining its portrayal in historical records versus its popularization through media.

Psychological and Societal Ramifications

Diving into its psychological impact, proponents emphasize its role as a harmless linguistic artifact, while opponents raise concerns about desensitization to violence. The discourse investigates whether phrases like “sleeping with the fishes” contribute to desensitization or merely represent benign language evolution.

How To Use This Phrase Correctly

Before using phrases like “sleeping with the fishes,” grasp the historical origins and the seriousness of such expressions. Familiarize yourself with the context to avoid inadvertently trivializing or glamorizing sensitive topics like criminal activities.

Contextual Appropriateness

Be mindful of the setting and audience when employing phrases with historical connotations. Exercise caution in professional or formal environments where such language might be misconstrued or considered inappropriate.

Cultural Awareness

Acknowledge diverse cultural perspectives and sensitivities regarding phrases linked to criminal activities. Respect cultural boundaries and avoid inadvertently offending by using such expressions insensitively.

Employing Irony or Metaphor

When using phrases like “sleeping with the fishes,” exercise discretion. Understand the context in which irony or metaphor is employed to ensure it enhances communication without trivializing serious subjects.

Acknowledging Historical Roots

While using colloquial expressions, acknowledge their historical roots without perpetuating myths or glorifying criminal behavior. Use such phrases thoughtfully, respecting their origins and potential impact.

Bonus Facts

  • The phrase traces its origins to the underworld slang of the early 20th century in America. It’s believed to have emerged within mafia circles, symbolizing the disposal of bodies in water bodies to conceal murders.
  • While commonly associated with encasing victims in concrete shoes, historical evidence remains scarce regarding the literal use of concrete. Some accounts suggest other methods were used to weigh bodies down in water.
  • Its prevalence in popular culture skyrocketed due to films like “The Godfather.” The movie’s line “He sleeps with the fishes” solidified the phrase’s association with mafia executions.
  • The expression has variations across languages and cultures. In Italian, the phrase “dormire coi pesci” holds a similar meaning, while other cultures have their idiomatic equivalents.
  • Historical records reveal instances where bodies were indeed disposed of in water bodies tied to weights. However, conclusive evidence of concrete shoes’ widespread usage is lacking.
  • Contrary to popular belief, not all mafia killings involved “sleeping with the fishes.” The phrase represents a select method of disposal rather than a ubiquitous practice among organized crime groups.
  • While certain high-profile mafia figures were rumored to have used this method, substantiated evidence remains elusive. Some accounts link this phrase to specific mob figures but lack concrete proof.
  • The phrase became part of law enforcement jargon to describe instances where bodies were found disposed of in water bodies, regardless of the method used.
  • Over time, the phrase’s use has transcended its criminal connotations. It’s now employed metaphorically in diverse contexts to denote someone’s disappearance or silence.
  • Despite its association with crime, the phrase’s impact on language and culture is undeniable. It remains a vivid metaphor, often used in literary and colloquial settings to evoke a sense of finality or disappearance.

While the notion of “sleeping with the fishes” wearing concrete shoes persists in popular culture, historical evidence doesn’t substantiate its widespread use by the mafia for actual executions. Rather than a prevalent method of murder, it seems to be more a product of myth and legend than a grim reality of mobsters’ tactics.