Poll: Do you consider "Gypsy" a slur?

Recently, there have been instances of new members in the Forum who chose to use the word “Gypsy” as part of their @ username. We were discussing with @MeganB and @TheTravelWitch if this is appropriate.

Please read on and cast your vote below! :bar_chart:

Background

This topic concerns us because in many 20th-century New Age traditions the term gypsy has been used as a synonym with “cunning person”. From Wikipedia:

Some legends (particularly from non-Romani peoples) say that certain Romani have passive psychic powers such as empathy, precognition, retrocognition, or psychometry. Other legends include the ability to levitate, travel through astral projection by way of meditation, invoke curses or blessings, conjure or channel spirits, and skill with illusion-casting.

“Gypsy” as a slur

The problem with the word is that the Romani people (“gypsies”) have been discriminated, persecuted and even genocided, and the label has been used as a way to alienate them along the way.

At the same time, the word itself has evolved in other directions which are mostly inoffensive. The following are excerpts from this article: The Grammarphobia Blog: Is ‘Gypsy’ a slur?

On July 4, 2019, a reader of the blog wrote us to say that she is a Roma and considers every use of “gypsy,” ethnic or otherwise, uppercase or lowercase, “a hurtful racial slur.” But on Dec. 22, 2019, another reader wrote us to say that he is Romani and “No true Roma actually care nor do we find the term offensive.”

In Dictionaries

  • Oxford English Dictionary : Nowhere does the OED , an etymological dictionary based on historical evidence, label “Gypsy” as offensive or contemptuous. But many standard dictionaries do have reservations about the term.
  • Longman : “Most Gypsies prefer to be called Romanies".
  • Collins : “Some Gypsies prefer to be called Romanies.”
  • Cambridge : No reservations.
  • Macmillan : No reservations.

However, dictionaries tend to follow along the changes in language, and not the other way around.

According to international organizations

  • Council of Europe : "It is an alien term, linked with negative, paternalistic stereotypes.”
  • Gypsy Lore Society : No reservations.
  • RomArchive : “Ridiculous stereotype”.

Poll

Is “gypsy” an offensive word? What’s your opinion?

  • Yes
  • No

0 voters

5 Likes

Thanks for opening up this discussion, @Francisco! I’ve heard a lot of mixed messages around the term lately- it really helps to have a variety of official definitions and several different perspectives :+1:

In related news, I found out that one of the schools of dance I used to do (previously called ATS: American Tribal Style) is has officially changed its name to FCBDS: Fat Chance Belly Dance Style to avoid the world “tribal”. Many of the traditional dance terms have been changed to remove ethnic references.

It’s strange to have to re-learn many of the terms I learned and have to get into the habit of calling my old dance school by an entirely different name. It’s a lot of work, and honestly, a bit frustrating.

But language is a living thing, after all- it grows and adapts along with society. And I also believe that the language we use is a reflection of our values and beliefs. So now that I’m aware that this word causes hurt to a significant number of people, then to me, I’d rather choose to use language (even if it means re-learning and changing of habits) that helps those around me to feel more comfortable.

Thanks again for opening up this discussion, Francisco- I am much more educated on the issue now, and feel confident in how I personally will handle this word going forward :blush:

Looking forward to hearing everyone else’s thoughts and input around this term, and as always, I’m grateful for a respectful and encouraging place to have these important discussions :pray::infinite_roots:

Blessed be :sparkles:

6 Likes

You are right, during WW2 not only were Jewish people, homosexuals, any body they didn’t like and Gypsies were systematically murdered in the death camps.
Being American and naïve, I associated Gypsies as anybody who lived a wandering life as Gypsies. Not the stereotypical Wagon and horses like in the movies. The fact is that I didn’t know about prejudice until I married and moved to Charleston, S.C. And it wasn’t so much black against white or vise versa but everybody was angry and hateful to everyone. You learned to be quiet and keep your eyes down. The 60’s was rampant with anger and hate. It was frightening time to live/ The 70’s a period of anxious anticipation. The Cold War, Viet Nam war and so much social injustice.
We’ve come a long way but there is so much further to go.

6 Likes

Our language (American English) has been socially ambiguous for a very long time. Today our language has been so changed you are afraid to use many words for fear of being offensive or “Politically incorrect”.

The Native American. (once known by the misnomer of Indian due to explorers arriving in N. America thought it was actually India.) These indigenous peoples were actually denied their own language & spiritual practices for many decades.

As for FCBDS, anybody who belly dances thought the name change from Tribal Style dance to Fat chance Belly dance was Ludacris , why aren’t the language police crying foul because FCBDS has the word ‘FAT’ in it. It can be found up to 6,000 years ago , in some pagan societies who used to worship a feminine deity, to celebrate women’s fertility as something magic. Another popular theory is that belly dance began as a traditional birthing practice to help ease the pains of childbirth.
My people came from Ireland and were called “Micks” that was considered a mean term. There are unbelievable ethnic slurs out there. In fact, the “F-word” is used like a descriptive adjective. There truly are words and phrases out there that are just abhorrent and should be stifled.
As long as there are people, they will say what they choose. In conclusion, language, is like an open wound, it festers, then settles down like a viscous circle. We are guaranteed Freedom of Speech, the First Amendment encompassed the decision what to say as well as what not to say.

5 Likes

I don’t identify as Roma, so I can’t speak for all Roma, but I’m of the belief that if enough people have of a particular group (Roma or otherwise) say that a particular term is offensive that it becomes debatable, then, by default, it should be assumed that the term is offensive. However, if someone who identifies as the group feels comfortable using it to describe themself, then that’s up to them.

:warning: TW/CW: Discussion of anti-LGBTQ slurs — nothing too intense, but specifics will be blurred :warning:

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I’m very aware of the impact of the use of slurs, especially when they have hateful intent behind them, and when people are too stubborn to change their use of terminology even though they’re not ignorant about the term their using.

As someone who is socially constructed as gay, I personally find the use of the f-slur to be highly offensive, no matter who it’s used by. Some gay-identifying people use it without reservation — that’s their choice. I’m not offended when members of the community use it because they are actually a part of the specific community it applies to, and they made that choice for themselves. If someone outside the community uses it, it’s a 100% no-go in my opinion, ESPECIALLY if they know better but still choose to use it anyway.

Another LGBTQ+ specific term that is debatable is the term queer. Some LGBTQ+ members find the term to be highly offensive due to its previous use as a slur. However, I personally use it as a label for myself because I feel that it’s one of the very few words that can accurately be used as an umbrella term for me to describe myself. Therefore, when other people say it, as long as it’s clear that they are using it in a respectful way, I have no problem with it, whether they’re a member of the LGBTQ+ community or not. On the other hand, I have LGBTQ+ friends who don’t like the term, so I don’t use it around them, and respect their boundaries and preferences. Even though I personally have no problem with the word itself, I still am of the belief that it shouldn’t be thrown around willy-nilly and that it should be used respectfully — as with any word. Any word can be used as a weapon if it’s used with the (in)correct intent.

If someone isn’t actually a member of a group, they shouldn’t use terminology if that group, especially to describe themselves. This is essentially cultural appropriation, and should be avoided. If you’re not a member of a historically (or currently!) discriminated-against group, you have absolutely no right to claim whatever particular status you’re attempting to claim. This downplays and makes light of the horrible traumas people have gone through and continue to go through, and perpetuates the gap between the socially-advantaged and the socially-disadvantaged.

To me, what it comes down to is RESPECT. If enough people of a group consider a term to be offensive that it becomes a topic, or if a member of a particular community tells me not to use a certain word, I LEARN, and I stop using that word because I have respect for people.

11 Likes

I think that’s a good comparison, Wade. I really appreciate the emphasis you’ve placed there on respect and learning, even when we may not initially understand.

Cultures, communities, and groups of people aren’t monoliths and sometimes what is offensive to one person will not be offensive to another, even within the same group. But I agree. If many people have an issue with a word that has been used to dehumanize their People then, out of respect, we can simply use a different word or phrase.

10 Likes

Wade makes a good point about LGBTQ. I have read more than one article in major publications from people in the community that are trying to take back queer. I am not even blurring that because as an ally I have many friends that embrace it. It is a sign of power to them that they could take something that was meant for evil and turn it to something that is good.

While anecdotal, I talked to my Romani Gypsy friend to be sure I had heard her right from our talks before. She said they do not find the term offensive and prefer to be called that instead of Romani. That is why I voted no it is not a slur.

Context is everything, of course. But as a general rule, if it isn’t being used as an attack or for comedic effect, I believe the word is safe to use.

Here is much of her quote:

I embrace our history and own it, instead of holding grudges and being offered by stuff. People can only hurt you with their words if you unconfident in yourself. The name Gypsy was given to us because we were the strangest group that people had encountered at the time…
Either way, how someone uses any name matters way more to me than what name :woman_shrugging:t3: and Gypsy by itself has no bad connotations at all, I am proud of it.

8 Likes

Over all no. It could be in the wrong context.

My paternal side are gypsies I personally find pikey I lot more offensive.

7 Likes

I think the homophobic F word is amongst the most disgusting… All hate speech is to be honest. I run along the lines of theres not necessarily bad words but there is definitely bad intent. If my daughter drops a few swears I let it slide but if she were ever to use a homophobic or racist slur I would be absolutely heart broken. Especially as I identify as a member in the LGBTQIA + community myself.

8 Likes

You’re right Wade, I hadn’t looked at it from your point of view.
I guess what I wanted to say was that people are confused with their
own language. What to do, what to say without offending. If in any way I offended you, my friend, I do apologize.

5 Likes

My understanding is that if the majority of members from an oppressed group find a term for them offensive, then non-members shouldn’t use it. Period.
Even if there is a debate on whether it is appropriate to use, I think it still use it, just to be on the safe side.
From what I’ve read, so far, on the matter, it seems that many of the Romani people aren’t fond of the G-word.

The “G” Word isn’t for You: How Gypsy Erases Romani Women

One of them had a point when they said the term can conjure inaccurate (and harmful) images of the Romani people as vagabonds who travel from town to town in covered wagons, reading your fortune and palms, and swindling you.

8 Likes

I wasn’t offended :relaxed: I know you didn’t have any harmful intent :hugs: I was going to edit my post yesterday to add more information after I’d had some time to wake up and clear the fog from my brain (I think I posted my post around 7:00 or 7:30 am :sleeping: haha), but I got distracted and forgot :sweat_smile:

I meant to add that as others have pointed out, words in and of themself aren’t usually inherently good or bad, but the meaning behind them is just a social construct. Words are only harmful if we make them harmful, and each culture has a different way of interpreting words.

As an example, while the f-slur for LGBTQ+ people is, in general, considered to be highly offensive and taboo to say here in the US, in England, it’s a common, every-day word that means “cigarette.” Over there (at least from my understanding of the British English vocab usage), no one thinks twice when they’re using it as a slang term for a cigarette; on the flip side, they can also use it with the intent to refer to LGBTQ+ people, and it takes on the offensive meaning.

There have also been times when I notice differences in meanings of words between different parts of the US. Unfortunately, I can’t remember any specific examples, but I know that I’ve said things that made one of my friends from Oregon be like “Wait! Did you just say what I thought you said??” and I’ve experienced the same thing when I lived in Virginia for a few months: there were common words and phrases that I’d use down there that would shock people, and words/phrases that they’d say that would shock me.

TLDR: Words have meanings that are socially constructed based on the history and culture of a particular location. As a general rule, if someone from a particular group says something is offensive, I believe we should find an alternative for that word and that we should educate ourselves on why they consider it to be offensive. If someone of a particular group doesn’t consider a word to be offensive, that doesn’t mean that we have the right to use that word whenever and however we want — we need to be aware of how our words can truly cut people to the soul, even if we don’t mean any harm. If a person isn’t offended by the use of a particular word, and the person doesn’t mind, I think it’s totally fine to use that word around them and in private. However, just because several people aren’t offended by the term, it doesn’t mean that if you’re not a part of that group that you can use that word whenever you want.

7 Likes

I still owe you and apology, I was abrupt and wrote in anger without thinking.
I had just finished a shadow journal project and I did not like who I was. All the bitterness and rage that I had suppressed for decades came back. I don’t think I’ll do that again.
Love you, Garnet

6 Likes

Aweee I can totally understand that, and I appreciate and accept your apology :smiling_face_with_three_hearts: I don’t want you to feel bad though — I know you weren’t coming from a mean place :slight_smile: I know how hard shadow work can be, and I struggle with accepting myself when I’m not engaging with shadow work, so I completely understand — I hope you’re getting closer to coming around to embracing yourself! I haven’t known you for very long, but I can tell that you’re an amazing person, and as hard as it can be to love oneself, you definitely deserve to :relaxed: It takes a strong, incredible, wonderful person to acknowledge stuff like you did :heart::relaxed:

6 Likes