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.
It's not short for Gypsy. Interesting fact though, you CAN say what you want. Should you? That's entirely up to you, but it's important to remember no one has the right to stop you saying whatever you want.
Hereabouts if we say "My back is giving me some gyp today", we mean my back is very sore.
I find it interesting that both gypsy and gippy derive from Egyptian. Apparently, Egypt was as distant and exotic a place as English commoners could imagine, and so they applied that name. Calling those we might call gypsies, Egyptians, was common at least as recently as the early 18th century.
In the process of looking up this term 'gypped,' I gained some fascinating (for me, at least) info. One piece I learned was this term exonym
: "In ethnolinguistics, exonyms are names of ethnic groups and where they live which have been applied to them by outsiders, in contrast to endonyms, which are the name used by the group itself. "
"I encounter a lot of people who tell me that they never knew the word 'gypped' had anything to do with gypsies, or that it's offensive — especially when the word is heard not read," says University of Texas at Austin professor Ian Hancock, who was born in Britain to Romani parents.
"My response to them is, That's okay. You didn't know but now you do. So stop using it. It may mean nothing to you, but when we hear it, it still hurts."
Hancock tells me the word "gypsy" itself is an "exonym" — a term imposed upon an ethnic group by outsiders. When the Roma people moved westward from India towards the European continent, they were mistaken to be Egyptian because of their features and dark skin. We see the same phenomenon across several languages, not only English. Victor Hugo, in his epic Hunchback of Notre Dame, noted that the Medieval French term for the Roma was egyptiens. In Spanish, the word for gypsy is "gitano," which comes from the word egipcio, meaning Egyptian — in Romanian: tigan, in Bulgarian: tsiganin, in Turkish: cingene — all of which are variations of slang words for "Egyptian" in those languages.
The Roma people originated thousands of years ago not in Egypt, but in Northern India. They were displaced during a series of 11th-century Muslim invasions during the Ghaznavid Empire. Many were taken as prisoners of war back to what is now modern-day Turkey, during the Ottoman plunder of the Byzantine Empire. A majority of already-displaced Romani people later migrated to Eastern and Southern Europe. The Roma language is derived from ancient Sanskrit and still phonetically, grammatically and linguistically resembles tongues with Sanskrit roots like Hindi or Rajasthani. Romani music is still strikingly similar to Indian folk music, and their spiritual practices — despite conversion to local religions over time — still resemble aspects of Hindu cosmology.
The effort to substitute the word "Roma" for the far better-known term "Gypsy" may strike some as futile, but few other groups carry the burden of such heavy stereotypes with so little reprieve.
Earlier this year, Romani faced several high-profile accusations of child kidnapping. In October, Code Switch colleague Gene Demby wrote:
"In one case, the police received a tip that a blond, blue-eyed girl was living with a Roma family in a Dublin suburb. The tipster believed that the 7-year-old didn't look like the Roma family with whom she lived. The police came and removed the child from the home, despite protests from the Roma family that the child was part of their family."
It is this kind of deep-set suspicion and generalized assumption of deception that drives many Roma to reject the term "gypped." It probably doesn't help that the term was originally meant to refer to Egyptians.