Entomology of a word; “Gypsy”

Sorry if this comes across a little like a rant. It certainly isn’t meant as one.
The word Gypsy is part of the American lexicon, but it should probably be discouraged. Not for political correctness.

The slang term  was first used in France around the 17th century (So after the whole thing about witchcraft being anything that wasn’t part of the church. I will have a nice long rant  post about that) when nomadic tribes from Africa migrated north. To reach Europe, they traveled through Egypt. The people, not bothering to ask where they actually came from assumed they were in fact Egyptian. Many of the Nomads brought small items and crafts from their homelands and other places they had been. This, they sold or traded for food. ‘Gypsy’ then meant ‘foreign’ (there is a line about oranges being gypsy fruit in The Scarlet Pimpernel)

More travelers came up from Africa or down from northern Europe came to be called the same, meaning ‘wanderer.’ For the most part, those who wandered in, wandered back out again. The only group to really stay for notable periods of time were the Romani people. Unfortunately, the less savory travelers (Thieves, con artists, swindlers) would travel through, con the people and leave. They gave the term a rather negative connotation that was projected to the image of the Romani. These stereotypes still exist almost as the norm.

Basically, the term Gypsy, though an insult and highly offensive is considered politically correct. But really it is not.

I don’t use the term. Easier said than done. To use the term instantly conjures up the image (you know the one) For many years the Romani fortune teller was among my favorite Halloween costumes, but I no longer do that. Some of my favorite songs contain a reference to those who wander. (One of the singers has in more recent years learned it was an insult and plans to retract the songs with her apologies, but the others are super old)

There are (or will be, for now I have one) a few traveling bands in the blood cloak series, but the word will not be used. One particular group who are based a little bit on the Romani people themselves, but the G word is never used. It is not needed. Not because I care about political correctness.

I hope to spread the message and help eliminate the word, or at least educate those who never heard it was an insult.There are plenty of other adjectives for people who roam. And if you want to distinctly mention the Romani people, there are FAR more civil ways of doing so.

It’s not about being politically correct, it’s basic human decency.


3 thoughts on “Entomology of a word; “Gypsy”

  1. Interesting read, as I’ve used the word in my novel, not thinking much on it. I wonder, does it depend upon the specific group as to whether or not they take the term offensively? I’ve seen characters refer to themselves as gypsies in books when they were thieves and swindlers. The used it as a proud moniker.


    • I know the Romani people find it offensive, some only when it is used in reference to them, others if it is used at all. A lot of books use the term broadly. It is not as well known as some others (The reference of Fagin as ‘the old jew’ in Oliver Twist, The constant terminology used for Jim, the runaway slave in Huckleberry Finn are often flagged as highly offensive.) I am staying away from it altogether, just to be safe.


  2. I suppose it’s different when the character prefers it. And if you have a character who is a bigot and this is part of your plot, I suppose it would be safe to use. I think it depends on the context. That’s just me, though.


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