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Gypsy (term)

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Gypsy (term)

"Zingari" redirects here. For the opera by Leoncavallo, see Zingari (opera).

The Romani people are also known by a variety of other names, in English as Gypsies and Roma, in Greek as γύφτοι (gýftoi) or τσιγγάνοι (tsingani), in Central and Eastern Europe as Tsigani (and variants), in France as gitans besides the dated bohémiens and manouches, in Italy as gitani and zingari.

Self-designation also varies: In Central and Eastern Europe, Roma is common. The Romani of England call themselves (in Angloromani) Romanichal, those of Scandinavia (in Scandinavian romanidialect) Romanisæl. In German-speaking Europe, the self-designation is Sinti, in France Manush, while the groups of Spain, Wales and Finland use Kalo/Kale (from kalo meaning "black"). There are numerous subgroups and clans with their own self-designations, such as the Kalderash, Machvaya, Boyash, Lovari, Modyar, Xoraxai, Lăutari, etc.

Rom, Romani

Romani usage

In the Romani language, rom is a masculine noun, meaning "man, husband", with the plural romá. Romani is the feminine adjective, while romano is the masculine adjective. Some Romanies use Romá as an ethnic name, while others (such as the Sinti, or the Romanichal) do not use this term as a self-ascription for the entire ethnic group.[1]

English usage

In the English language (according to OED), Rom is a noun (with the plural Romá or Roms) and an adjective, while Romani (Romany) is also a noun (with the plural Romanies or Romanis) and an adjective. Both Rom and Romani have been in use in English since the 19th century as an alternative for Gypsy. Romani was initially spelled Rommany, then Romany, while today the Romani spelling is the most popular spelling.

Sometimes, rom and romani are spelled with a double r, i.e., rrom and rromani, particularly in Romania in order to distinguish from the Romanian endonym (români). This is well established in Romani itself, since it represents a phoneme (/ʀ/ also written as ř and rh) which in some Romani dialects has remained different from the one written with a single r.[2]

Although Romá is used as a designation for the branch of the Romani people with historic concentrations in Eastern Europe and the Balkans, it is increasingly encountered during recent decades[3][4] as a generic term for the Romani people as a whole.[5]

Because all Romanies use the word Romani as an adjective, the term began to be used as a noun for the entire ethnic group.[6]

Today, the term Romani is used by most organizations—including the United Nations, the Council of Europe, and the US Library of Congress.[2] However, some organizations use the term Romá to refer to Romani people around the world.[1][7]


The demonyms of the Romani people, Lom and Dom share the same etymological origin,[8][9] reflecting Sanskrit ḍoma "a man of low caste, living by singing and music"[10][11]

Gypsy and Gipsy

The English term gipsy or gypsy[12] originates from the Middle English gypcian, short for Egipcien. It is ultimately derived, via Middle French and Latin, from the Greek Αἰγύπτιοι (Aigyptioi), i.e. "Egyptians"; cf. Greek γύφτοι (gýftoi), a corruption of the same word. It was once believed that the Romanies, or some other Gypsy groups (such as the Balkan Egyptians), originated in Egypt, and in one narrative were exiled as punishment for allegedly harbouring the infant Jesus.[13]

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) states a 'gipsy' is a
member of a wandering race (by themselves called Romany), of Indian origin, which first appeared in England about the beginning of the 16th c.
According to the OED the word was first used in English in 1514, with several more uses in the same century, and that both Edmund Spenser and William Shakespeare used this word.[14]

This exonym is sometimes written with a capital letter, to show that it designates an ethnic group.[15] The Spanish term gitano, the French term gitan and the Basque term ijito have the same origin.[16]

During the 16th and 17th centuries the name was written in various ways: Egipcian, Egypcian, 'gypcian. The word gipsy/gypsy comes from the spellings which had lost the initial capital E, and this is one reason why it is often spelled with the initial g in lowercase.[17] As time elapsed, the notion of 'the gipsy/gypsy' altered to include other associated stereotypes such as nomadism and exoticism.[18] John Matthews in The World Atlas of Divination refer to gypsies as "Wise Women."[19] Colloquially, gipsy/gypsy is used refer to any person perceived by the user as fitting the Gypsy stereotypes.[20]

'Gipsy/gipsy' is a common word used to indicate Romani people, Tinkers and Travellers, and use of the word "Gipsy" in English is so pervasive (and is a legal term under English law—see below) that many Romani organizations use it in their own organizational names. However, many Romani people and academics who study them believe the word has been tainted by its use as a pejorative connoting illegality and irregularity,[21][22][23][24][25][26][27] and some modern dictionaries recommend avoiding use of the word gypsy either entirely, or as a negative modifier.[28][29][30][31][32][33]

Use in English law

Gipsy has several developing and overlapping meanings under English Law. Under the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960, 'gipsies' are defined as "persons of nomadic habit of life, whatever their race or origin, but does not include members of an organised group of travelling showmen, or persons engaged in travelling circuses, travelling together as such."[34] This definition includes such groups as New Age Travellers, as well as Irish Travellers and Romany.[35][36]

Gipsies of Romany origins have been a recognised ethnic group for the purposes of Race Relations Act 1976 since Commission for Racial Equality v Dutton 1989 and Irish Travellers in England and Wales since O'Leary v Allied Domecq 2000 (having already gained recognition in Northern Ireland in 1997).[37]

List of names


In much of continental Europe, Romanies are known by names cognate to the Greek term τσιγγάνοι (tsinganoi):

Slavic Germanic Romance Other

The name originates with Byzantine Greek ἀτσίγγανοι (atsinganoi, Latin adsincani) or ἀθίγγανοι (athinganoi, literally "untouchables"), a term applied to the sect of the Melchisedechians.[38][39][40] The Adsincani appear in an 11th-century text preserved in Mt Athos, The Life of Saint George the Athonite (written in the Georgian language), as "a Samaritan people, descendants of Simon the Magician, named Adsincani, who were renowned sorcerers and villains". In the text, emperor Constantine Monomachos employs the Adsincani to exterminate wild animals, who were destroying the game in the imperial park of Philopation.[41]


Because many Romanies living in France had come via Bohemia, they were referred to as Bohémiens.[42] This term would later be adapted by the French to refer to a particular artistic and impoverished lifestyle of an individual, known as Bohemianism.


See also


External links

  • Romani words for Romanies and non-Romanies - Ian Hancock
  • Names of the Romani People
  • The Muslim Gypsies in Romania
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