Posted by: episystechpubs | November 27, 2012

Editor’s Corner: Sticks and Stones

Names of ethnic groups have inspired nonliteral associations, many of them derogatory designations for the “other.” Here are several terms based on such names, from

Bohemian: This word for one who adopts an unconventional lifestyle derives from the name of a historic region of Europe that now constitutes much of the present-day Czech Republic. Because many of the Romani people (see gypsy, below) had lived for a time in this area before settling in France, they were called Bohemians. In turn, this designation was attached to artists and writers who, because of poverty (voluntary or otherwise), often lived in city neighborhoods where the “original” Bohemians had concentrated.

Goth: This designation for a modern subculture distinguished by somber attire and demeanor and a fascination with death and the supernatural has its roots in gothic literature and horror imagery inspired by German expressionism. Gothic literature, in turn, derives its name from the standard setting of stories in this genre: castles or monasteries of the Gothic architectural style.

This style, meanwhile, takes its name from a pejorative use of Gothic to mean “barbaric”; the Goths were a loose confederation of tribes from Scandinavia responsible for the conquest of Rome and other centers of civilization in the early Middle Ages.

Gypsy: The Romani, members of a far-flung ethnic group originally from the Indian subcontinent, were long believed to have come from Egypt, and their informal name, now sometimes considered pejorative, derived from Egyptian. The term has also been used to refer to people with nontraditional, nomadic lifestyles and is employed loosely in such terms as “gypsy dancer.” The truncation gyp, meaning “cheat,” in both noun and verb form, results from an association of the Romani with fraud and thievery.

Philistine: Influenced by biblical references to a people of the Near East, called the Philistines, these people were the archenemies of the Israelites (the land they had lived in was later called Palestine). The term came to be used to refer to uncivilized people; later by extension, a philistine was a person lacking refined artistic or cultural tastes and values.

Vandal: This Germanic tribe, originating in Scandinavia, came to be associated with looting and pillaging because, after migrating throughout Europe and settling in North Africa, the Vandals conquered Rome in the early Middle Ages. However, recent historians have argued that the Vandals did not destroy the late Roman civilization but rather adopted the culture. Nevertheless, the word still refers to someone who damages property.

Kara Church

Senior Technical Editor

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