Mon 9 Mar, 2009 01:56 am
I always thought that the word "gyp" was short for "gypsy." Based on that assumption, I also thought that phrases such as "don't gyp me" or "what a gyp" were ethnic slurs, and I used to correct people about this. Then, someone I respect said that she didn’t think that was actually the origin. I check the Oxford English Dictionary, the authority on the origin of words in the English language. The OED says that this word came into use in England, because the people who moved around the stage equipment were called "gyps." I guess those stage hands, the gyps, didn’t act very ethically. But the OED doesn't say *why* the stagehands were called that or where that term for stagehands came from. I don’t want spew insults about an ethnic group, but I also don’t want to keep accusing people of being racist when they use the term, if that’s not the origin of the term. Can you help? Thanks!
From: The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology | Date: 1996 | Author: T. F. HOAD | Â© The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology 1996, originally published by Oxford University Press 1996. (Hide copyright information)
gyp (at Cambridge and Durham Univ.) college servant. XVIII. perh. short for †gippo scullion (XVII), transf. use of †gippo tunic " (O)F. jupeau.
Other lexicons say the etymology is
gypsy. But all of these are theories as far as I know. Here is a decent overview of the main theories I have heard of:
I was used to hearing "He gypped me", meaning "He cheated me out of some money", [e.g. gave short change in a shop] but when I moved from London to Bristol, England, in the 1970s, I was taken aback to hear local people say "He Jewed me", quite unconsciously mostly. It is less common nowadays.
Sure, go ahead and say it. Big deal. Do you know any gypsies, by the way? If not, who cares? But if it's becoming an issue for you, change your wording - just say "ripped me off".
I still say Indian-giver but since I don't know any "Indians", who's going to care?
I hate being called an "Indian giver".
Wait... I take that back.
Not actually a slur against Indians. In reality, it's the white guys that promised and reneged, often and big time.
I also don’t want to keep accusing people of being racist when they use the term, if that’s not the origin of the term.
I'm wondering: does it matter if the derogatory meaning of the term was not part of the etymological origin of the term? Words acquire meaning over time, and some words are so steeped in historical and cultural contexts that may never recover their etymological innocence. If it could be shown that the terms "bitch" or "Kraut" were not originally derogatory terms for women or Germans, for example, would that make it any less advisable to exercise some caution when using the terms? Would it be a plausible defense against someone who took offense at those terms?
I agree Shapeless. In essence, it doesn't matter a tinker's damn (ooops) what the origin of a word is, it's the meaning that it holds for language users today.