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In literal use, a male godparent, who presents a child at baptism, responding on their behalf and promising to take responsibility for their religious education; the term is recorded from Old English, and in late Middle English was extended to a male sponsor at the consecration of a church bell.

From the 1960s, the word has also denoted a person directing an illegal organization, especially a leader of the American mafia; the usage derives from the film The Godfather (1972) by Francis Ford Coppola, based on the novel (1969) by Mario Puzo, and centring on Don Corleone, the sinister head of a Mafia ‘family’.

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