The use of "gypped"
December 7, 2003 3:28 PM   Subscribe

A recent comment about "feeling gypped" made me curious about what people here think about the term. [more inside]
posted by Ljubljana to Etiquette/Policy at 3:28 PM (148 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Dictionary.com doesn't categorize it as offensive in the way that, say, "Jewed Down" is. But they do mention that it's "probably short for Gypsy."

Some interesting thoughts on the subject:

Research Day: Gypped, by Matthew Baldwin of Defective Yeti (and Metafilterian)
Please Call Me Rom, by Shani Rifati.

Any thoughts?
posted by Ljubljana at 3:35 PM on December 7, 2003


Previously discussed some in this thread.
posted by rushmc at 3:36 PM on December 7, 2003


Well, I had to look it up on Dictionary.com to find out why I should think anything about the term - is it that much of an issue?
posted by Orange Goblin at 3:36 PM on December 7, 2003


Ass Ponys
posted by clavdivs at 3:43 PM on December 7, 2003


My thoughts are this: Screw MonkeyFilter and the other spinoffs, someone needs to start PCFilter. No offense, Ljubljana, but gimme a break.
posted by anathema at 3:47 PM on December 7, 2003


...made me curious about what people here think about the term.

Yeah, geez, why do you have to be so ultra-sensitive and inflammatory and et cetera
posted by cortex at 3:54 PM on December 7, 2003


Anathema, ditto.
posted by billsaysthis at 3:55 PM on December 7, 2003


I'm surprised anyone still actually says gypped.

When I was younger (west coast), my friends and I all said it, and at the time I had no idea what the origins were.

Anyone know a reccent instance of gypped being used in an actual derogatory manner?
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 3:55 PM on December 7, 2003


I used the term in a comment i made here at Metafilter. But I felt uneasy enough about it that I later posted another comment explaining that 'gypped' was a common term where I grew up (southen california) and there was never a sense that it referred to gypsies or was derogatory in any way.

Only later, when told about its possible origin, I decided to expunge it from my vocabulary. No big loss. Still, as seen by that metafilter post, it will still surface up unconsciously from a history of usage. But no harm is meant.

Also, cunninglinguist is one of the coolest people I know.
posted by vacapinta at 3:56 PM on December 7, 2003


Since I lived in Romania, I don't say it anymore. I feel like the word is pretty distanced from its derogatory origins, so I also rarely take offense but yeah, like "retard" I just don't say it personally.
posted by jessamyn at 4:09 PM on December 7, 2003


I think "vagina" would be less offensive, e.g. My mechanic vagina-ed me on that last repair.
posted by TimeFactor at 4:25 PM on December 7, 2003


Just to be clear, I'm not on PC patrol. I'm not offended, just curious, so while we're handing out breaks, how about giving me (and Nell Carter) one, anathema?

I've found that in Eastern Europe, for example, people will regularly and nonchalantly use a slur like "nigger," to which they attach absolutely no pejorative meaning. Thanks to the ubiquitousness of rap music, and the fact that there are few blacks in Eastern Europe, they simply think it's the appropriate word to use. I know scores of ex-pats here who were asked, in a kind voice, if they had any "nigger friends" back home.

Of course, the reaction they get (usually horror) genuinely surprises them. And they're often amazed to hear that Americans "make such a big deal" about it.

I think a similar thing is in force w/r/t Roma. There aren't that many in the U.S., and so people don't really have any kind of sensitivity to things that might otherwise be considered offensive.

To be clear: I think very highly of cunninglinguist, and it's blatantly obvious that absolutely no harm was intended. That's why I tried to stress (to no avail) that I was just curious about people's thoughts, not out looking for blood.
posted by Ljubljana at 4:30 PM on December 7, 2003


jessamyn's right. The word has bad history, so avoiding the term is probably in everyone's best interest. Suggesting pc-filter implies ignorance to the term, or indifference to those associated with it.
posted by BlueTrain at 4:32 PM on December 7, 2003


Americans "make such a big deal" about it : Probably explains why the pejorative du jour now at my workplace is brother, as in: That brother is a fuck-up. The more things change...
posted by mischief at 4:36 PM on December 7, 2003


I've found that in Eastern Europe, for example, people will regularly and nonchalantly use a slur like "nigger," to which they attach absolutely no pejorative meaning. Thanks to the ubiquitousness of rap music, and the fact that there are few blacks in Eastern Europe, they simply think it's the appropriate word to use

Perhaps you could tell them to stop.
posted by clavdivs at 4:39 PM on December 7, 2003


My mechanic vagina-ed me on that last repair.

You'll have to get me her number, TimeFactor.
posted by DrJohnEvans at 5:07 PM on December 7, 2003


Perhaps you could tell them to stop

I could, but then they'd say: "No offense, man, but gimme a break."

No, no, whenever I hear it, of course I explain that it's offensive and inappropriate.
posted by Ljubljana at 5:07 PM on December 7, 2003


Offensive and inappropriate are strictly situational concepts, IMO.
posted by signal at 5:20 PM on December 7, 2003


this reminds me of that funny DC incident a few years ago when a local politician said "niggardly" in a speech and everybody went nuts thinking it was a racial slur


btw it was very useful for my knowledge of the English language because at the time I didn't know what "niggardly" meant. it was kind "learn your English" watching the news kind of thing

posted by matteo at 5:20 PM on December 7, 2003


oh for fuck's sake, this is a big nosed, swarthy, nigger-rigged excuse for a thread.
posted by quonsar at 5:23 PM on December 7, 2003


I agree with signal.
Your implication isn't appreciated, Ljubljana.
posted by anathema at 5:28 PM on December 7, 2003


what implication is that, anathema? It was a lame joke, as far as I can tell - you do know that nell carter was on Gimme a Break, right?
posted by ashbury at 5:51 PM on December 7, 2003


this is a big nosed, swarthy, nigger-rigged excuse for a thread.

That's it, quonsar. You're going in the paddy wagon.
posted by yhbc at 6:16 PM on December 7, 2003


Refusing to stop using a term that might offend other people because you are 100% sure it doesn't bother YOU one bit is missing the point entirely. I used to say "retard" and "gyp" etc. on a regular basis, but now I don't, not because I developed a problem with the words, but rather because it came to my attention that they are considered derogatory and offensive by others.
posted by bonheur at 6:38 PM on December 7, 2003


The problem being that almost any word is offensive to someone - it is more a matter of deciding if it is offensive to enough of the people that you interact with to justify changing your own behaviour. If you continually stop using a word because one person is offended by it, you could end up becoming either mute or insane (or, even worse, talking like someone who has been to the government school of PC).
posted by dg at 6:49 PM on December 7, 2003


That's it, quonsar. You're going in the paddy wagon.

Ah rite, I call tha beadle I will"
posted by clavdivs at 6:57 PM on December 7, 2003



posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:59 PM on December 7, 2003


hmmm
posted by clavdivs at 7:00 PM on December 7, 2003


You know, Koreans refer to us caucasoid (or more accurately if more generally, non-Asian) types here in the Land of The Morning Traffic as 'monkeys' all the damn time, on the street and on TV, sometimes to our faces.

Not complaining - hell, I got used to it long ago and I'm still here. But you learn to be a little less sensitive to these things, while understanding intimately how it feels to be on the receiveing end of deliberate slurs as opposed to merely unconscious ones.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:24 PM on December 7, 2003


sure and i am a demon if i get tattooed. Big frikkin whoop.
posted by clavdivs at 7:29 PM on December 7, 2003


This is very worthy of discussion. I'm sure that tons of Romani read Metafilter, and they live well enough to spend energy brooding over petty slights.

Next Topic:

Is it all right to use ethnic slurs directed towards aboriginal Tasmanians, even though they're extinct?
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:31 PM on December 7, 2003


Can I still call someone an assclown or would that be non-PC for hat-wearing ass clowns?
posted by Stynxno at 7:31 PM on December 7, 2003


Big frikkin whoop.

Sorry? You got something more useful than that to add, whitey, or are you just being an asshole again?
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:43 PM on December 7, 2003


Can I still call someone an assclown or would that be non-PC for hat-wearing ass clowns?

Mr. Stynxno, my father was an Assclown and he didn't die fighting the Nazi aggression toward Assclownia back in '39 so you could use his ethnicity as a cheap slur fifty years later!

:::: runs out of room crying ::::
posted by dhoyt at 7:45 PM on December 7, 2003


I didn't even know of the origin, much less the actual spelling.
posted by angry modem at 7:48 PM on December 7, 2003


Is it all right to use ethnic slurs directed towards aboriginal Tasmanians, even though they're extinct?

My rule is to avoid making ethnic slurs in general and only secondarily worry about whether a representative is in the room or even alive.
posted by vacapinta at 8:17 PM on December 7, 2003


To be clear: I think very highly of cunninglinguist

Maybe it's the joint I just smoked, but I could have sworn that read "cunnilingus".

In which case, I second that statement.
posted by Dark Messiah at 8:24 PM on December 7, 2003


Everyone that's going to quit using the word "gyp" will, I trust, also quit using "Holy Cow!" and "Damn!" and "Man!"

Because, you know, Hindus may take offense to the first, Christians to the second, and women's rights activists to the third.

Myself, I take the greatest offense to the word "and." Please quit using it. Expunge it from your vocabulary, I implore you!

Words are, themselves, harmless. It's the intent in their use that should be considered. Call me "whitey" if you want... just don't use it perjoratively.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:31 PM on December 7, 2003


When I was younger, I'm pretty sure that the term I used was "jipped." I knew nothing of the term "gyped."
posted by jaronson at 9:10 PM on December 7, 2003


My rule is to avoid making ethnic slurs in general and only secondarily worry about whether a representative is in the room or even alive.

my oh my, but ain't your whites whiter than white?!
posted by quonsar at 9:17 PM on December 7, 2003


i was playing scrabble just a couple of weeks ago and someone challenged the word, "jew." so we looked it up in the scrabble dictionary, where--believe it or not--it was listed as a verb. the dictionary was circa 1980's edition, i think.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 9:38 PM on December 7, 2003


"...Is it all right to use ethnic slurs directed towards aboriginal Tasmanians, even though they're extinct?"

- Only on alternate tuesdays, and before making a charitable donation to the tasmanian cultural remembrance society. Otherwise, no.
posted by troutfishing at 9:50 PM on December 7, 2003


C'mon, sirmissalot, you know it's spelled j00. And it's a pronoun, second person singular. i.e. m3 0wnz0r2 j00, j00 r teh l4m3.
posted by arto at 10:23 PM on December 7, 2003


Words are, themselves, harmless. It's the intent in their use that should be considered. Call me "whitey" if you want... just don't use it perjoratively.

I just bought a new car--I think the guy jewed me.

That's fundamentally the same thing as saying you were "gyped," as it plays off a stereotype that all people of a certain ethnicity are fundamentally prone to a certain unappreciated trait. Therefore, the addendum you made (and I quoted) contradicted the point you were trying to make, since "gypped" is a pejorative term.

I think the real question would be whether or not the term has any pejorative value if nobody understands what the term is in reference to. I actually read an article that mentioned "gypped" about six months ago and was surprised; frankly, I'd never considered where the term had come from.

As it is, I would only use a slur in the most ironic of senses, and even then only in company that I thought would actually understand that I was being ironic and wouldn't misconstrue it. The word "gypped" doesn't hold much appeal to me, either--it's aurally inane, even if the strange visual combination of "gypp" is visually arresting.
posted by The God Complex at 11:12 PM on December 7, 2003


Jesus Tap Dancing Christ. Some of you people need to get a fucking life.
posted by SweetJesus at 11:16 PM on December 7, 2003


To be clear: I think very highly of cunninglinguist

Maybe it's the joint I just smoked, but I could have sworn that read "cunnilingus".


It's almost like that sort of mistake was intentional, and, dude, a linguist is someone who studies language, and this one is cunning and made a joke using language and did I just blow your mind?! Rad.
posted by The God Complex at 11:26 PM on December 7, 2003


it's kinda weird when both jesus and god weigh in like that.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 11:41 PM on December 7, 2003


*condescendingly exhibits his writer's credentials*

For those who use words professionally, no word is out-of-bounds. This means many seemingly OK words can be used aggressively and otherwise offensive words, if used in the proper context or sympathetically, can be OK. When used in an affectionate context - as between friends (and it could be argued we're among friends here) - they can even be endearing.

Hey - I too was taken aback the first time someone here exclaimed "Yo my bitch" or bitch-slapped me!

It all depends on whether the context is aggressive and designed to insult or, rather, intended humorously, affectionately or as a self-conscious satirical device. This is fairly easy to ascertain.

It's silly to judge words as if they existed in a vacuum. That said, certain words with obvious ethnic connotations which clearly imply unethical slurs, tainting everyone who happens to be included regardless of their behaviour, are obviously in such bad taste that they're ineffective. In reality, they're sloppy usage. They're very much like offensive cultural stereotypes - that Gypsies (or Egyptians or Arabs) often fool their customers; that Jews (or Scots) are mean and money-grabbing; that Yanks are ignorant and boobie-obsessed; that we Pork-and-cheese use too many words and labour a point till utter exhaustion...

Did Wittgenstein die for nothing? Meaning is in usage; not in abstract definition or description. ;)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 11:52 PM on December 7, 2003


"When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less." - Humpty Dumpty
posted by mischief at 12:36 AM on December 8, 2003


Wittengenstien died? Man, he got Sartred.
posted by Dagobert at 1:03 AM on December 8, 2003


The problem being that almost any word is offensive to someone

...if your vocabulary is limited to offensive words.
posted by eddydamascene at 1:12 AM on December 8, 2003


mischief: precisely. The Reverend Dodgson truly anticipated the Austrian Ludwig.

Good point, eddy - thanks. Needed to be said. What I meant, following the vagina thread, was that a lot of good descriptive words can be used to offend.

For instance, you could call me "limited!" (it sort of means "retard" here) or "prick!" or "Hispanic!" or "vocabularist!" even. It all needs to be judged (though I realize this isn't the fashion) by intention and effect. quonsar, for instance, is such a good writer that, although he's a liberal and highly conscious of perceived slights, he can use supposedly charged words in a way that is not only inoffensive but positively funny and inventive.

A great writer could use the word "cunt" in a charming, affectionate way. Well, not even great - adequate.

Don't you agree?
posted by MiguelCardoso at 1:22 AM on December 8, 2003


A great writer takes care that the full connotative weight of the words he uses precisely conveys the meaning he intends. How widely he is considered to be great depends of how universal those connotations are.
posted by eddydamascene at 2:36 AM on December 8, 2003


Or on how good his proof read are.
posted by eddydamascene at 2:37 AM on December 8, 2003


"A great writer could use the word "cunt" in a charming, affectionate way"

Manzoni turned -- literally -- shit into a work of art

does it mean we have to rub our faces in shit then? because somebody turned the putrid thing into art once?
help yourself. I'm pretty much against it
posted by matteo at 4:03 AM on December 8, 2003


i was playing scrabble just a couple of weeks ago and someone challenged the word, "jew." so we looked it up in the scrabble dictionary, where--believe it or not--it was listed as a verb. the dictionary was circa 1980's edition, I think.

The word -- and a bunch of other slurs -- have been expunged from the third edition of the Scrabble dictionary. You were clearly using the second, or first, edition.
posted by jessamyn at 4:12 AM on December 8, 2003


If we're appraising the term for its appropriateness in literature, then it is unacceptable.

I have encountered actual Romani a bunch of times while in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and I think that the connotation of the term "gypped" is misleading. Romani people have tried to sell me worthless stuff exactly three times. Many more times than that, they sent hordes of kids swarming around me to pick my pockets or tried to sell me hash. So the term needs a broadened definition if we're going to make it valuable again.

(You could argue that the hash was probably a burn too, and thus falls under "worthless junk." Me, I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:23 AM on December 8, 2003


Well, I encounter actual Romani every day, and my New Year's celebration would be a much sadder affair if I couldn't hear the gypsy musicians playing their mad, mad music in the stoa of the local outdoor market on New Year's Eve afternoon. Just like any other ethnic group, Gypsies cannot be characterized as either saints or sinners - they are what they are, and I am grateful that they exist.

So, I don't use the word "gypped". I don't "correct" others for using it, but if a friend were to use it frequently, I might ask them if they knew the supposed etymology of the word.
posted by taz at 5:21 AM on December 8, 2003


Breaking down the barriers for Gypsies in Britain.
posted by Blue Stone at 5:23 AM on December 8, 2003


How widely he is considered to be great depends of how universal those connotations are.

By definition, connotation cannot be universal.
posted by rushmc at 6:21 AM on December 8, 2003


re : the article above .

if you buy that , you'll buy anything , the oppressed mcphee gypsy clan , give me a fucking break , gadgie.
posted by sgt.serenity at 7:14 AM on December 8, 2003


anyone else use the word "gadge" (or gadgie) at all? maybe you can achieve karmic balance by using an equal number of "gadge" and "gypped"...

[on preview - was that by luck, sgt, or do you know the meaning?!]
posted by andrew cooke at 7:16 AM on December 8, 2003


The other day I was in a store with my child (about 1 year old) and a host of other children ranging in age from 2 months to 3 years old. I assure you that keeping control of them was akin to herding cats. At one point I exclaimed "If you all don't behave, I swear to Gods, I will sell you all to the Arabs!", to which my friend replied, "Sweetie, you *are* the Arabs in this area." And my response was "Ok...fine. To the Gypsies with all of you! I'd rather have camels, but I'll take jewelry and a nice caravan wagon."

Some lady in the store felt compelled to stop and tell me how offensive it was that I would suggest selling children to the Gypsies...although it was quite apparent by my tone that I was kidding and the children never had any fear that I was going to sell them to anyone. (Because children are trusting that way.)

So, I had to ask if she was Romanian, or had any gypsies blood in her whatsoever...which she didn't...she was another example of the bleach blonde fake titted trophy wives that pollute the Dallas environment...and for the life of her, when pressed for an explanation of how and why it was "offensive" to suggest that I was going to sell a basket of children to Bedouins or Gypsies, she had no answer. She didn't know why it was offensive, but she was damn sure I broke some politically correct law and she felt honor bound to tell me about it. (I, of course, felt honor bound to tell her a number of things...which for space reasons, I'll omit sharing.)

You know, sometimes things aren't offensive. I would never have assumed that "jipped" (which is how I thought it was spelled) would have had anything to do with Gypsies...the race of people persecuted for the last 1000 years or so.

The O.E.D. (Oxford English Dictionary), would suggest that the word is not derived as a reference to Romany people, but is indeed derived from the phrase ‘gee-up,’ which meant ‘to treat roughly’ in some localities of England. See also "Gippo". A ‘gippo,’ later shortened to ‘gyp,’ was a short jacket worn by the valets of Oxford undergraduates in the 17th century. The word ‘gyp’ this theory holds, was eventually applied to the servants themselves, who were often cheats and thieves.

This just reminds me of the niggardly argument, it really does.
posted by dejah420 at 7:46 AM on December 8, 2003


The word -- and a bunch of other slurs -- have been expunged from the third edition of the Scrabble dictionary. You were clearly using the second, or first, edition.

"Jesuit" is a slur? Weird.
posted by furiousthought at 7:47 AM on December 8, 2003


"applied to the servants" : Oh, so now we're cutting down the 'little people'. ;-P
posted by mischief at 8:08 AM on December 8, 2003


Reverend Whitey if you would stavs.
useful? hmmm, I thought I was being useful by pointing out your comment is not useful...to me. Perhaps to others.

the reality is that if one where to use that N-word around some parts here, I can guarenntee that person would find themselves in a situation for which there is no return. That is reality. Romanians using the N-word in Romania has no or little consequences and i guess your being subject to monky comments has very little consequence on your end. You take it in stride and laugh or what ever. The ass part of me made the comment, it was kinda tounge and cheek. The hole part comes now when i say "great observation Stavs" and roll my eyes.

now come here and give your main nay-nay a hug.

'1 The world is all that is the case.
4.01 A proposition is a picture of reality.
4.0312 ...My fundamental idea is that the 'logical constants' are not representatives; that there can be no representatives of the logic of facts.
4.121 ...Propositions show the logical form of reality. They display it.
4.1212 What can be shown, cannot be said.
4.5 ...The general form of a proposition is: This is how things stand.
5.43 ...all the propositions of logic say the same thing, to wit nothing.
5.4711 To give the essence of a proposition means to give the essence of all description, and thus the essence of the world.
5.6 The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.'

-Wittgenstein

"It's silly to judge words as if they existed in a vacuum. That said, certain words with obvious ethnic connotations which clearly imply unethical slurs, tainting everyone who happens to be included regardless of their behaviour, are obviously in such bad taste that they're ineffective. In reality, they're sloppy usage"

Knowing the meaning of a word can involve knowing many things: to what objects the word refers (if any), whether it is slang or not, what part of speech it is, whether it carries overtones, and if so what kind they are, and so on. To know all this, or to know enough to get by, is to know the use. And generally knowing the use means knowing the meaning
posted by clavdivs at 8:33 AM on December 8, 2003


"Gypped" is offensive, but as much as I curdle with Mayor Curley's every response, he is on the mark that relatively few Roma will read Metafilter and take offense. In English it is getting obscure - like calling somebody an Ofay.

In East Europe there isn't a related term. Merely calling somebody a "Gypsy" (cigány, tsigan, etc.) is considered a slur. I've even heard Roma in Hungary and Romania use it as a pejorative " You're worse than a Gypsy." And as Ljubljana points out, don't expect Europeans to suddenly get all PC about their language anytime soon. They hear a lot of "nigger"on MTV, and it seems to the gazillions of young learners of English who listen to music to be something that is in the "cool" category of English speech.

Hateful speech is endemic to all languages. One would hope that a forum such as Metafilter would try and rise above it. That said, I don't see any Roma protesting on this page. I'm gonna ask my Rom musician buddy Janos tonight what he thinks of all this - I am pretty sure it will get a laugh...
posted by zaelic at 8:40 AM on December 8, 2003


The propensity to quibble about not being allowed to use a few words of the english language belies an unfortunate lack of imagination.
posted by whatnot at 8:57 AM on December 8, 2003


What about "rip-off". I think it's offensive to generous rips.
posted by hama7 at 9:10 AM on December 8, 2003


I remember reading a National Geographic article last year where the author sets out to dispel the awful myths about Gypsies. He ends up getting mugged and almost knifed by an entire Gypsy village.

I couldn't help but to feel it was the making of another neoconservative.
posted by dgaicun at 9:23 AM on December 8, 2003


The propensity to quibble about not being allowed to use a few words of the english language belies an unfortunate lack of imagination.

You can pry my English words from my cold dead hands. Censoring language or whispering euphemisms like "N word" and tittering behing your hand like a 10-yr-old feeling naughty does not eliminate the realities that language has evolved to describe. Better you should aim your outrage there; if you are successful, language will adapt to reflect the change.
posted by rushmc at 9:33 AM on December 8, 2003


As a poor ignorant honky, I take offense to the phrase "cheese and crackers." Please adjust your vocabulary accordingly.
posted by keswick at 9:40 AM on December 8, 2003


dejah420 - isn't it a little insulting to suggest that a particular race trades in children? (i wouldn't have stopped in the street to support either of you in your argument, but i don't see why you're so shocked that it should be seen as offensive).
posted by andrew cooke at 9:42 AM on December 8, 2003


if you're going to hang out with gypsies, always bring beer. Then you won't get gyped.
posted by cell divide at 9:53 AM on December 8, 2003


I'm pretty much against it

Me, too!


And Furthermore:

I don't like politics I don't like communists
I don't like games and fun I don't like anyone
Well I'm against it I'm against it

I don't like Jesus freaks I don't like circus geeks
I don't like summer and spring I don't like anything
I don't like sex and drugs I don't like waterbugs
I don't care about poverty All I care about is me

I don't like playing ping pong I don't like the Viet Cong
I don't like Burger King I don't like anything
And I'm against it
posted by jonmc at 10:18 AM on December 8, 2003


I curdle with Mayor Curley's every response, [but] he is on the mark that relatively few Roma will read Metafilter and take offense.

Relatively few compared to what? How about none?

zaelic, go start a love train or something. Your sensitive guy act gets older every time I see it. Perhaps if you keep it to yourself, we'll all evolve to see it your way. Someday you, the Native Americans and the Romani people will all walk together as equals. And then a beautiful rainbow will appear and all the cynics will melt like the nazis from "Raiders."
posted by Mayor Curley at 10:38 AM on December 8, 2003


Please Call Me Rom is an interesting personal essay that I found in the comments of a Defective Yeti post on the same subject.
posted by taz at 10:53 AM on December 8, 2003


By definition, connotation cannot be universal.

...and thus no writer is considered universally great. QED
posted by eddydamascene at 10:54 AM on December 8, 2003


... How about none?

Mayor Curley: Tu shai te xas mo xar. Go look it up.
posted by zaelic at 11:26 AM on December 8, 2003


You people are whopping and honking over niggardly concerns. It's a queer argument, one that can be nipped in the bud with the hillbillies. 'Limey, are we to take a shine to all specious similarities? Are we to give in to those sensitive souls who want to turn the English language into something spick and span? It's enough to give any sensible person the spooks.
posted by ed at 11:30 AM on December 8, 2003


So let me get this straight.

1) "Gyp" probably doesn't come from "gypsy."
2) No actual person of Rom descent has expressed an opinion in this thread, so far as I know.
3) Nevertheless, we're all supposed to avoid saying "gyp" because... persons desperate for all-pervasive offenselessness think someone might connect it with gypsies Roma who, if they found out about it and were told of the hypothetical origin, might take time from their busy schedule to be offended?

I liked the following comment from the thread rushmc linked to way up there near the top:

Amusing. I was completely unaware of the racist overtones of the word "gypped". Having said that, if anyone ever actually got offended if I used it, it'd be awful hard to keep from laughing.
posted by GeekAnimator at 3:32 PM PST on June 12


Oh, and for those of you making the silly comparison with "jew": I defy you to find me anyone who uses that verb without realizing it's connected with supposed proclivities of the Jewish people. I strongly suspect (though I don't guarantee) that the vast majority of those who use "gyp" intend no reference to Roma, and most likely are unaware of that alleged etymology. So put down the red herring and back away slowly.

This is a very silly thread.
posted by languagehat at 11:50 AM on December 8, 2003


Mayor Curley: Tu shai te xas mo xar. Go look it up.

I'm not going to bother to look it up. I just wanted to make an ad hominem attack to complement yours.

I suspect that it means "My Roma buddy wrote this from his laptop at the Tashkent Starbucks" anyway.
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:58 AM on December 8, 2003


Oh, and for those of you making the silly comparison with "jew": I defy you to find me anyone who uses that verb without realizing it's connected with supposed proclivities of the Jewish people.

It was a Shakespeare reference!
posted by The God Complex at 12:18 PM on December 8, 2003


zaelic: I tried to look it up but couldn't find anything very helpful. Something about understanding? Please would you translate?

During my travels, I have also been accosted by packs of pickpocketing kids and aggressive beggars and was told by the locals that they were 'gypsies'. However, I would never by that assume that all Roma were pickpockets, beggars or nuisances in general, any more than I would assume that any other small group would be indicative of a whole race/nation.

To answer Ljubljana's question: I no longer say 'gypped' because there are people who are offended by it, and I feel it perpetuates a stereotype. I respect their feelings and it's a small adjustment to make.
posted by widdershins at 12:56 PM on December 8, 2003


hey widdershins, how many offended people does it take to strike a word from your vocabulary? i'm just curious.
posted by keswick at 1:15 PM on December 8, 2003


keswick, assuming you're not being snarky: it depends. If I find out that some people are likely to be offended by a certain word, I try to respect their wishes, especially if it causes me no inconvenience. The number of offendees has little to do with it - a little kindness and goodwill go a long way.
posted by widdershins at 1:51 PM on December 8, 2003


i shall NEVER forget my ignorant, sheltered irish-catholic mother exclaiming "oh! look at the sweet little pickaninny!" at the hospital nursery viewing window. nor her embarrassed, angry protestations of "what?!?!?" as her two oldest sons, young teenagers at the time, simultaneously gaped at her in disbeleif and tried to shrink into the cracks in the tile floor.
posted by quonsar at 2:42 PM on December 8, 2003


rushmc, I just find it odd that many of the same folks that cling to rules of grammar and spelling are quick to discount the feelings of others when choosing words. Present company excepted, of course.

It's a living language--don't societal changes influence its evolution as well? I am not outraged, I just don't see why we can't think of another word to use when there are so many from which to choose to choose from.
posted by whatnot at 3:24 PM on December 8, 2003


So I have to quit using "jewed" as a positive expression of having gotten something for less than expected? That sucks. I love jewing down a price. It's A Good Thing.

In return for not using "jewed," I ask that everyone quit using the terms "stoned," "stoner," or "tripping," as I find those to be very perjorative toward potheads. Not all potheads are clumsy, ill-spoken, or hallucinating.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:48 PM on December 8, 2003


I no longer say 'gypped' because there are people who are offended by it

Offended by it on their own behalf or on the hypothetical behalf of others? I continue to find it incomprehensible that anyone would alter their vocabulary not to avoid direct hurt to someone listening to them or reading their words (a worthy goal) but to appease someone who goes around looking for things that someone, somewhere, might find offensive (a fool's errand).

I swear, if I were a less kindly person I would be tempted to falsely claim that some term was originally a slur on some minor ethnic group and sit back and see how many sensitive souls leapt at the bait and started telling everyone else to avoid it. "Don't you dare say 'three-card monte'! It's a slur on Montenegrins!"
posted by languagehat at 5:51 PM on December 8, 2003


I thought I was being useful by pointing out your comment is not useful...to me. Perhaps to others.

That's as may be, but the next time you respond to something I decide to share with you bastards about My Own Personal Life with 'big frikken whoop' I'm going to....

Well, I'll...

I'll be vocally indignant, is what I'll be. Possibly even miffed, or, if I'm feeling especially saucy, peeved.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:30 PM on December 8, 2003


And you wouldn't like that now, would you! Hah!

*stands back triumphantly, arms folded*
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:31 PM on December 8, 2003


Being a little fowl-tempered today, are we stav?
posted by orange swan at 6:58 PM on December 8, 2003


You better duck! I ain't no spring chicken, maybe, but my spurs are sharp and my skills are impeckable.

Heh.

Nah, I'm just funnin'. Mostly.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:10 PM on December 8, 2003


I just find it odd that many of the same folks that cling to rules of grammar and spelling are quick to discount the feelings of others when choosing words

But, see, people's feelings can be baseless and foolish at times. I won't comment on the possible relevance to this thread (because I don't want/don't have time to get into it), but for an example, see "niggardly." Just because someone has a "feeling" doesn't mean the whole world has to accommodate it. Sometimes it is nice or polite or considerate or respectful to do so, and sometimes it would be ridiculous to do so. Different people may, of course, disagree on which side of the line a given issue may fall.
posted by rushmc at 7:31 PM on December 8, 2003


It'd be worth pointing out for, what, the fifth time?, that "gyped" has nothing to do with gypsies, according to at least one dictionary.

Oh, damn. Now I'm going to have to haul out my Chambers dictionary and ascertain...

gyp1 jip, n. a college servant at Cambridge and Durham. [Perh. gypsy; or perh. obs. gippo, a short jacket, a varlet—obs. Fr. jupeau.]

gyp2 jip, (slang) n. a swindle, a cheat.—v.t. to swindle:—pr.p. gypping; pa.t. and pa.p. gypped.

gyp3 jip, (slang) n. pain, torture.—give someone gyp to cause someone pain. [gee up.]
posted by five fresh fish at 10:03 PM on December 8, 2003


I just want you all to know, that because of your brave actions, Gypsies everywhere are sleeping soundly tonight. Godspeed.
posted by jonmc at 7:04 AM on December 9, 2003


Moral: never challenge a MeFite's right to be an asshole in public.
posted by sudama at 8:52 AM on December 9, 2003


How's it being "an asshole" to use words like "niggardly" and "gyp"?

It would seem that those words don't have the etymology that you think they do. Why should the rest of us have to tippy-toe around your misbegotten sensibilities?

Taking affront to those words is as stupid as taking offense to the word "and" because, hey, maybe it comes from an ancient insult to the Andean peoples!
posted by five fresh fish at 10:20 AM on December 9, 2003


Oh, and for those of you making the silly comparison with "jew": I defy you to find me anyone who uses that verb without realizing it's connected with supposed proclivities of the Jewish people.

I've had it happen to me personally, and I'm Jewish (and I'm pretty sure more than once). Honestly, in the one vivid memory I have of it, the woman who said it didn't even realize it until my sister pointed it out to her.

The "jew" comparison is exactly why I've stopped using "gyp" and why I make it a point to note it to other people who use it. It's just poor form, and the hallmark of an uncreative mind.

Also, the "there are no Romani here bitching about it" argument is a bit pointless. How do you know they're not here, and don't want to bring it up because y'all act like a bunch of self-entitled louts when someone does?

If those of you who feel that it's OK to talk about being "gypped" would be so kind as to list all of your deviations from WASP-hood, I'll be sure to duly deliver off-color remarks about them in future comments.
posted by mkultra at 10:20 AM on December 9, 2003


What is the origin of "gypped"? Can we have a consensus before we keep going on & on about a "worthless" word, please. w/O out it this thread has no value.
posted by thomcatspike at 12:35 PM on December 9, 2003


The "jew" comparison is exactly why I've stopped using "gyp" and why I make it a point to note it to other people who use it.

Uh-oh. He's "noting" stuff.

*shivers*

If those of you who feel that it's OK to talk about being "gypped" would be so kind as to list all of your deviations from WASP-hood, I'll be sure to duly deliver off-color remarks about them in future comments.

I'm half mick and half guinea. Knock yourself out. Frankly, I believe ethnic pride (and thus ethnic sensitivity) is stupid. If we got any more sensitive around here, we'd all break out into a collective rash.
posted by jonmc at 12:47 PM on December 9, 2003


What is the origin of "gypped"?


As I and others have pointed out, the OED; which is considered the ultimate authority of the English language, would suggest that the word is not derived as a reference to Romany people, but is indeed derived from the phrase ‘gee-up,’ which meant ‘to treat roughly’ in some localities of England.

See also "Gippo". A ‘gippo,’ later shortened to ‘gyp,’ was a short jacket worn by the valets of Oxford undergraduates in the 17th century. The word ‘gyp’ this theory holds, was eventually applied to the servants themselves, who were often cheats and thieves.
posted by dejah420 at 12:51 PM on December 9, 2003


If we got any more sensitive around here, we'd all break out into a collective rash.

indeed. a vaginal rash.
posted by quonsar at 1:08 PM on December 9, 2003


Well, if we're all going to adhere to our non-P.C. ways, can we collectively decide to at least update the crack and refer to getting screwed over as "Bushed"?

That includes you, Jon, you drunk mick!
posted by mkultra at 1:16 PM on December 9, 2003


That includes you, Jon, you drunk mick!

Don't make me call my guinea relatives to have you roughed up....
posted by jonmc at 1:18 PM on December 9, 2003


Frankly, I believe ethnic pride (and thus ethnic sensitivity) is stupid.

White people often feel this way, as they generally aren't confronted with negative consequences of their (in)visible ethnicity on a daily basis.

I was moved to look up the definition of 'pride' the other day, as 'pride' expressed by marginalized and persecuted groups is often ridiculed: "A sense of one's own proper dignity or value; self-respect."

You don't hear people talk seriously about white pride or straight pride because the worth of white and straight people is not called into question by mainstream culture and society.
posted by sudama at 1:23 PM on December 9, 2003


White people often feel this way, as they generally aren't confronted with negative consequences of their (in)visible ethnicity on a daily basis.

You assume too much, sudama. I've been in several extended situations in my life (residental & work related), where I was the only or one of very few whites or non-Hispanics. Looking around my 10 seat cube here at work, I'm one of two white faces in it. To be quite honest, it dosen't bother me. Although if anyone gave me any serious shit (by serious shit, I mean epithets or threats, not good natured bullshit) about there'd be trouble, and I'd expect nothing less from a black, hispanic, or gay person.

But pride should be reserved for what you yourself do, not what your "people" have done. Same with guilt. Otherwise it's like couch potato sports fans congratulating themselves when the team scores a touchdown, as if they had anything to do with it. Besides, it an easy step from pride, to chauvinism, then to outright bigotry.

Especially when it comes to fart in the wind issues like the one this thread is devoted to. Am I supposed to honestly believe that all the complainers are here out of their deep and abiding concern for the Romani community? Or are they just trying to show us all how swell they are?
posted by jonmc at 1:36 PM on December 9, 2003


I just find it odd that many of the same folks that cling to rules of grammar and spelling are quick to discount the feelings of others when choosing words

But, see, people's feelings can be baseless and foolish at times.


same's true of the rules of spelling and grammar :). I mean, seriously, the purpose of spelling and grammar is to make sure information can be conveyed, so when we get upset over split infinitives or sentences ending in prepositions, or obviously comprehensible little errors, we're no longer focused on the actual ends of the rules, but merely on the rules themselves as an arbitrary measurement of worth. People's feelings may get hurt for stupid, unavoidable reasons at times, but if it's simple enough to not get under someone's skin, why do it?

Offended by it on their own behalf or on the hypothetical behalf of others? I continue to find it incomprehensible that anyone would alter their vocabulary not to avoid direct hurt to someone listening to them or reading their words (a worthy goal) but to appease someone who goes around looking for things that someone, somewhere, might find offensive (a fool's errand).

so it's alright to say "nigger" as long as no black people are in the room?

This doesn't seem like a big deal to me - does this word convey something that can't be translated into other possible terms? It seems very likely that the etymology of the word is related to the widely stereotyped picture of romanians as cheats; even without conscious intent, you can perpetuate a stereotype through reference, and it seems reasonable to me that made aware of the reference, you can choose to generally try to avoid it.

It's really a silly argument to claim that then we'll end up left with no vocabulary because everything will offend someone. All this is about is avoiding verbs based on racial stereotypes, on supposed behaviors of an ethnicity as a whole. That seems doable without impoverishing our tools of expression in any discernable way.

on preview: Most dictionaries define gyp, the verb "to cheat", to be derived from Gypsy. The noun "severe pain", as in, "his arthritis gave him gyp" is from "gee up". The noun, as in servant, may be from Gypsy, or may be from "gippo".
posted by mdn at 1:59 PM on December 9, 2003


Hmm. My reaction to what might be a similar environment is different to yours (jonmc).

I don't find it at all pleasant (in my case the discrimination is usually positive, but it's still *extremely* annoying). It really does drive me to some pretty strange thoughts/feelings. The kind of thing you "know" is "wrong", but nonetheless seems a suitable response. I'd never thought much about being English, for example, until everyone started staring at me because I'm a gringo. I wrote this (self-link, review of Unsworth's Stone Virgin) while in a particularly bad mood. I don't think the state of mind I had there is far away from falling back on "ethnic pride"...

[I'm not arguing that the main topic here is important, just that I can understand why many people find ethnic pride important, even though it's clearly (from an impartial pov) pretty stupid.]
posted by andrew cooke at 2:02 PM on December 9, 2003


so it's alright to say "nigger" as long as no black people are in the room?

Is there an ethnic-slur equivalent of Godwin's Rule? Seriously, give me a break. To answer your question literally, obviously the degree of the offense (which also depends on context -- are we quoting Twain, for example?) is likely to be less if there are no black people in the room (though we can never be sure who's "black," can we?). To answer your implication: I repeat, give me a break. To leap from "gyp" (a term of disputed origin which has not so far been proved to offend an actual person who might think it directed at him or her, as opposed to ostentatiously sensitive persons who are upset about the thought that it might offend someone else) to "nigger" (probably the most prima facie offensive term in the English language at the moment) is ridiculous and a deliberate derail.

To conclude: give me a break.

Excursus on "niggardly": I originally thought the whole controversy was stupid and had no intention of altering my usage because of a misunderstanding of usage and etymology. When it became apparent that actual black people were personally offended by the word, however needlessly, I stopped using it, because I do not wish to give personal offense (as opposed to offending the terminally sensitive on others' behalf). If an actual Rom checks in here and says he or she is personally offended, or if someone can provide convincing evidence that actual Roma have been offended, I'll reconsider my stance. Until then, what the two mc's (rush and jon) said. Which reminds me: rushmc, your mail service has started to bounce my e-mails back; any idea what's going on?
posted by languagehat at 2:17 PM on December 9, 2003


I've been in several extended situations in my life (residental & work related), where I was the only or one of very few whites or non-Hispanics.

It's safe to say that's a pretty uncommon experience among whites in America. Have you been treated badly often because of your race?

As for pride, my point was that you were and continue to use a different definition. Substitute 'self-worth' and there's no slippery slope to bigotry.
posted by sudama at 2:18 PM on December 9, 2003


It's safe to say that's a pretty uncommon experience among whites in America. Have you been treated badly often because of your race?
Happen to me by the police in Westminster Ca. They thought I was driving a stolen car because I was young and white in a new 89 Chevy Cavalier z-24 in an Asian community, their very words. Worst they yanked me out of my car at gun point and made me spread eagle on the ground while they pulled my registration before telling me why.

They had undercover patrolling parking lots and when one was coming off duty he spotted me and shined a light in my face from a car next to me. So when the light turned green I sped ahead of him because he looked like a white bum, they called in two cycle-cops to pull me over. They even added that that was not a common car a white person to own.
everyone can be a target when you they are the present minority. Same can be said of sex, age & physical appearances: life is never fair or equal we all have bad days get use to them. Life is just what you make of it, your day:)
posted by thomcatspike at 3:37 PM on December 9, 2003


Wow. It's a group of white guys deciding which racial slurs are acceptable and which aren't! There's a novel idea!
posted by jess at 4:05 PM on December 9, 2003


The Oxford English Dictionary, the definitive dictionary of all time and space says that "gyp" has nothing to do with the Roma. It is not an offensive word.

When are you silly people going to understand that your illiteracy is not cause for others to quit using ordinary language?

And I'm curious: why the hell haven't the previous half-dozen posts on the etymology of "gyp" not clued you in already?
posted by five fresh fish at 4:27 PM on December 9, 2003


OH. MY. GOD.

I had no idea this thread, whose title I have ignored because it looked ridiculous and because I forgot I used the word gypped.

I've been MetaTalked and didn't know it!

Do I have to read the whole thread before sneering?

(I'm from NYC and aspire to talk like a 1940s cabbie. Sue me bud.)
posted by CunningLinguist at 5:26 PM on December 9, 2003


Well, it looks like the consensus is that you can say whatever you want without regard to context (time, place, audience) as long as you can back up what you say with a big dick-tionary.
posted by vacapinta at 5:48 PM on December 9, 2003


More on etymology. I'm really not convinced by the alternate theories; first of all, the name for the cambridge servants may derive from "gypsy" anyway, and secondly, it isn't congruent with the meaning of the term. People don't claim they were gypped when something's missing from their room; it's used when they're tricked or deceived out of money, which is what the romanians were widely stereotyped for doing. Plus it seems to always be spelled with the 'y', unlike the proposed english roots.

Languagehat, my point was that it's silly to suggest that people not of the particular origin in question couldn't be uncomfortable with the use of racial slurs. The presence of an actual representative of the ethnicity in question is less important than ascertaining the meaning of the term.

Anyway, I personally don't care much one way or another, but it seems easy enough to avoid its use, so why not? As for offensitivity in general, the funny thing is that people often think they're not the 'sensitive type', but what they're "not sensitive" about are things that just no longer touch a nerve. Who cares if you use irish or italian slurs these days? There's no power behind it. Other words will hit more of a sore spot; when there's discomfort or suffering in the backstory, words can be pretty powerful. You can say, hey just forget it, all you want, but the truth is language is the primary way we get things across to one another, and the words we choose to use create a shared environment. If a word is derived from a derogatory stereotype, is it so hard to just be aware about it?
posted by mdn at 7:07 PM on December 9, 2003



I think all this foofaraw about a slur so quaint and antiquated is ludicrous.

Is "pow-wow" off limits? "Shyster?" "Indian giver?" Can I no longer accuse someone of "welshing" on a deal?
Or am I just being waspish? Whatever, I'm off for some Dutch courage.
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:59 PM on December 9, 2003


Well, I think I did what a lot of people here did, which was to fail to read the links Ljubljana provided at the end of his post before reading the comments, then I got interested, Googled, and came up with the same links he did - which are very interesting. To the argument that no Romani have complained, I refer you to the Shani Rifati link. This person is not a MetaFilter member, but he clearly could be. Does this count?

To those who feel the argument is ridiculous because it seems so far removed from daily reality, this is just because you have no (or few) Romani in your community. As I mentioned earlier, I do, and so this doesn't really seem quaint to me. My husband has worked in several film and video projects featuring or focusing on the local gypsy population, and we've discussed the situation many times. The reference that Shanti Rifati makes to this ethnic group living, literally, at the garbage dumps is absolutely accurate (often with no running water or facilities to speak of), and they are always targets for prejudice and violence from both sides of the law. This does not make them a sainted group, and, if anything, has gone far towards making them even more insular and self governing, and less likely to interact productively with "outsiders". The Romani are truly at the far outer fringes of most societies, usually with none of the benefits that social structures provide, and almost always "tolerated" at best, and persecuted at worst.

That's the reality, and that's why I don't think it's off-limits to discuss the term. I'm not suggesting that nobody should use the word, and I don't know if the word does come from "gypsy", though the Romani themselves appear to think it does. But, please, surely it's not a heinous act to simply ask the question.
posted by taz at 10:42 PM on December 9, 2003


btw, CunningLinguist, everybody here loves you, and nobody is thinking anything negative about you at all. It's only a question about the term, which some believe is insensitive, while others completely disagree, and most haven't ever wondered about at all. I only heard of this possible connotation a couple of years ago, and it piqued my interest, so like Ljubljana, I've become curious about it.
posted by taz at 10:57 PM on December 9, 2003


anathema: My thoughts are this: Screw MonkeyFilter and the other spinoffs, someone needs to start PCFilter. No offense, Ljubljana, but gimme a break.

As the brother of an adorable, intelligent and very creative little gypsy girl (adopted by my parents 12 years ago), I find the term and the generally negative stereotypes about gypsies offensive and outdated.

How about giving my little sister a break and using a synonym (conned, cheated) that isn't also derogatory to a large group of people -- people who have grown used to persecution and being classified as subhuman?
posted by syzygy at 3:24 AM on December 10, 2003


Not related to the general topic, but if your parents raised this girl, how exactly is she a Gypsy? Is ethnic affiliation a genetic thing now?
posted by dgaicun at 3:48 AM on December 10, 2003


dgaicun:

The Roma are an ethnic group, not a nationality. If a white family adopts a Hispanic child, does that child stop being Hispanic?

She's aware of her heritage, and is keenly interested in learning about it. She's also aware that gypsies have been oppressed and looked down upon in Europe for the last ~1000 years.

She's only 15, and I don't think she would be angry or offended to hear the term, but I don't think it would be very uplifting or positive for her, either. I'm not asking for the word to be banned, but it would be nice if people chose another synonym without the negative racial implications attached to "gypped."
posted by syzygy at 4:02 AM on December 10, 2003


rushmc, your mail service has started to bounce my e-mails back; any idea what's going on?

No idea...it's been acting a bit flaky lately. I'm going to be on the road for about a week, so no telling what it will do in my absence.
posted by rushmc at 4:28 AM on December 10, 2003


languagehat quoting GeekAnimator: Amusing. I was completely unaware of the racist overtones of the word "gypped". Having said that, if anyone ever actually got offended if I used it, it'd be awful hard to keep from laughing.

If someone said "gypped" in the presence of my little sister, then laughed because she was offended by it, I would kick his ass.
posted by syzygy at 4:51 AM on December 10, 2003


now I'm going crazy because spent the morning putting together a photo-essay-collage kind of Mefi post inspired by this, but because I posted something yesterday on a whim (a site I liked that I wasn't originally really quite sure I wanted to post here), I can't post again yet. Let this be a lesson to you all; as soon as you post something that you are not really very passionate about, something else will come up inside the next 24 hours that you really-really-really want to post.
posted by taz at 5:13 AM on December 10, 2003


Awww, taz, thanks.


I guess I think it's silly because "gypped" strikes me as outdated Damon Runyon slang so divorced from its original derivations that it has been rendered utterly inoffensive.

Exactly like "welshing" on a promise. Does anyone really think it's a slur on the Welsh to say that? I mean, in the real world?

(Oh cool - "welsh parsley" is apparently a synonym for hemp.)
posted by CunningLinguist at 5:44 AM on December 10, 2003


whew - I posted! Cunning, before I moved from the U.S., most of my mental associations about "gypsies" were literary, and, actually, romantic. But now that I live in a place where there are lots of Rom/Romani/Gypsies, etc., it's completely different. syzygy has talked about his adopted sister; I know a little girl that I have actually had fantasies about adopting. I say this in full knowledge of the scorn that is going to be heaped on me for my white patriarchal (though I'm a female) attitude, but I'm just telling the truth. We (my husband and I) have known this girl for several years, and she is probably about 13 now. I suppose she was eight or nine when we first met her. She sells flowers among the outdoor tavernas, and has had very little traditional schooling. She is very, very smart, but completely ignorant of the basic things you learn in school - the names of different animals, countries, etc. - so, in thinking about her, I become all complexed about what is better for her; a state government that is more interested in making sure that basic education is administrated to all its residents, or the freedom to carry on living in a certain way that is traditional for this group.

I haven't reached any resolution on these sorts of ideas, but the fact she, and her family, and her "tribe" are often targets of hatred, and that she is at real and constant risk simply for being born a part of this group just demolishes me.
posted by taz at 6:23 AM on December 10, 2003


Who cares if you use irish or italian slurs these days? There's no power behind it. Other words will hit more of a sore spot; when there's discomfort or suffering in the backstory, words can be pretty powerful.

You'd be surprised. I've heard "guinea bastard" and "greaseball" aimed at people before (not me, my last name is irish, although I've heard the occasional malicious "white boy" hurled in my direction), and when people read in the paper that someone named say Salvatore Massaro was appointed to a government office, plenty of them will assume it's because of Mafia connections. I remember a time back in high school when I was discussing the upcoming election (this was 1988) and mentioned Mario Cuomo as a possible candidate. This one kid (a rich WASP) said "Great, let's hand the country over to the Mafia." I seethed a bit, but this was a 17-year old jerkoff, who I'd heard remark that the government "rewards the poor" with welfare programs. So I just considered the source.

But you can take sensitivity to ridiculous extremes. The intent, insensitivity and ignorance in the above incidence was clear. But we're a long way from the days of "gypsy hordes" roaming through Europe, so it's safe to say that most people who usethe word "gyp" are merely exercising a convenient colloquialism, not expressing deep hatred of the gypsy people.
posted by jonmc at 6:40 AM on December 10, 2003


Taz, you know I'm not arguing the rightness of hating gypsies, just the connotations of the word.


(My experience with gypsies is limited, granted. When I lived in Italy, you only saw them when they sent teams of children to swarm tourists and grab their wallets. In the Balkans, I visited a big group living in heartbreaking squalor on a garbage dump. They had it even worse than the Kosovars trudging away from their homes to the borders. I still think about those bright-eyed, beautiful kids playing in the garbage. But I have never once connected the word gyp to them.)
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:13 AM on December 10, 2003


yes, of course, I do know that Cunning - I guess I'm just pushing things a little here because of all the people who have indicated that the idea of considering this is totally outlandish.
posted by taz at 7:28 AM on December 10, 2003


Given that the OED does not document any connection to "gypsy," how the is it outlandish?
posted by five fresh fish at 8:47 AM on December 10, 2003


Thank you for reminding us, fff, that (as was recently demonstrated by another post) reference books are infallible.
posted by sudama at 9:07 AM on December 10, 2003


fff -"because of all the people who have indicated that... this is totally outlandish." Meaning I only spoke because so many seemed to think it was outlandish that the question should even be considered.

In terms of the OED, I really don't know. If most of the dictionaries say that it is probably from "gypsy", but the OED doesn't, it could be that most dictionaries are wrong. Or it could be that the OED failed to include this because it couldn't be verified. Or, it could be that the OED has decided that the word has absolutely nothing to do with "gypsy". I have no idea. I'm not addressing the OED's stance; I'm simply saying that the question is worthy of discussion.
posted by taz at 9:54 AM on December 10, 2003


WTF, sudama? We're talking etymology here: it's hardly anthropological op-ed. The OED has impeccable researchers who are hardly shy about calling a spade a spade.

Taz: so what about the word "niggardly"? Even the most rabid maniac in the country would have to ultimately admit that there is no connection between that word and "nigger." Should that word be expurged because it sounds like it should be offensive?

I think that's what this argument ultimately boils down to: whether we should get rid of words because they sound like they might be pejorative. The article I linked for sudama talks about this:

* eliminate "niggardly" because it sounds like one might be saying that blacks are typically cheap bastards.

* eliminate "call a spade a spade" because it sounds like it might be racist, even though it derives from ancient Greece.

* eliminate "chink in his armour" because, hey, "chink" is slang for "Chinese," neveryoumind that people have been chinking moss into cracks in their log homes for eons.

* eliminate "a nip in the air" because some daft bugger might think one's talking about Japanese air attacks?!

* eliminate "human" because it contains a word that offends half the huperson huperchild race.

Quite clearly, I think it is execrably stupid to start ridding ourselves of perfectly fine words just because illiterate or ignorant people think those words could be construed as offensive. Once we start down that path there is no end.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:45 AM on December 10, 2003


The OED is certainly not infallible, but it does tend to be more cautious than most other dictionaries, giving various possibilities rather than settling on one and putting it forth as the answer. (It's obvious why the latter is more popular: people don't like uncertainty.) On the subject of etymology, it doesn't really make that much difference what the historical origin of the word is; if it becomes a source of pain to people who think it directed at them, it's best avoided (cf. "niggardly").

The heartfelt posts by taz and syzygy impel me to make explicit what I expected to be understood: I am well aware of the wretched situation of the Roma, both today and historically, and want nothing but good things for them. (And syzygy, I'd never laugh at your kid sister!) I simply think that the Roma, having so many genuine and serious problems to deal with, probably put an unproven etymology for a rather obscure English slang word pretty low on their list of things to worry about, and I have zero interest in appeasing people who make it their business to go about looking for things to get upset about on other people's behalf (again, not talking about you, syzygy—you have every right to stand up for your sister). We live in an age which seems to be more concerned about symbols than reality, and I try to fight that trend when I can. If the situation of the Roma bothers you, far better to send a check or do some volunteer work than start taking people to task for saying "gyp." Likely result: a third will get pissed off, a third will ignore you, and a third will sort of feel bad and resolve to try to remember not to use a word that they probably never used in the first place. Just what have you accomplished thereby?

Thanks for the response, rushmc.
posted by languagehat at 10:45 AM on December 10, 2003


I guess I'm just pushing things a little here because of all the people who have indicated that the idea of considering this is totally outlandish.

Metafilter is a mixed company, and people of many different backgrounds read it. This seems to be forgotten sometimes. I've noticed this phenomenon on several other threads - remember the thread about the assassinated Swedish Foreign Minister which somebody tried to make a joke out of? Or the negative reaction to homunculus' thread on the 30th anniversary of the Chilean coup in 1973?
posted by plep at 10:52 AM on December 10, 2003


fff - I have no problem with the word "niggardly", and to be honest, I'm not completely sure where I stand on "gyp"; my responses here have had to do with the idea that "no gypsies are complaining", and the idea that the whole notion is so far removed from anybody's reality that it's ridiculous and not worth consideration. My reality is different, and I ventured to say so... that's about it.
posted by taz at 11:05 AM on December 10, 2003


If someone said "gypped" in the presence of my little sister, then laughed because she was offended by it, I would kick his ass.

syzygy: cuz ya know, in this topsy-turvy world of ours, brutal physical assaults are nothing compared to the horror of politically incorrect utterances. don't cry if i don't visit you in prison, asshole.
posted by quonsar at 1:44 PM on December 10, 2003


quonsar: grow up. he's talking about his kid sister.

maybe yours is only good for washing your clothes and giving you oral relief, but for most of us that's a pretty normal reaction to the scenario he described.
posted by andrew cooke at 2:58 PM on December 10, 2003


andrew cooke, YOU grow up. it doesn't matter! it doesn't matter one damn bit its his little sister. sure, a court may mitigate the sentence if it finds provocation - as it certainly would - it still doesn't excuse physical assault. not even for a little wet behind the ears cunt like you who implies my sister sucks me off.
posted by quonsar at 3:23 PM on December 10, 2003


I'm going to have to agree with the big q on this one. If we all started beating people up when they offended people we knew/loved, I'd never get any work done.

Also, it's hard to drive your point home when you're feathering it with insults, Andrew.

But that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.
posted by christian at 3:34 PM on December 10, 2003


Metafilter: it doesn't matter! it doesn't matter one damn bit.
posted by dash_slot- at 4:27 PM on December 10, 2003


MetaFilter: Not even for a little wet behind the ears cunt like you.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:54 PM on December 10, 2003


MetaFilter: Your sister sucks.
posted by quonsar at 6:55 PM on December 10, 2003


Or the negative reaction to homunculus' thread on the 30th anniversary of the Chilean coup in 1973?

Actually, I posted the Chile links inside madamjujujive's 9/11 thread, so some people thought I was trying to derail the thread. I don't think the negative reactions would have occured if I'd started a new thread instead (but who knows.) But your general point stands.
posted by homunculus at 7:57 PM on December 10, 2003


BTW - Apologies to all for my immature response(s) to this topic. I took it personally, and I shouldn't have.

This thread disabused me of my notion that "gypped" was universally acknowledged as an ethnically derogatory derivative of "gypsy." I was arguing (albeit in an incommensurately belligerent manner) with that mistaken premise as my foundation. It's interesting to learn that the term's provenance isn't universally agreed upon.

languagehat: Thanks for your thoughtful response(s) to this topic.
posted by syzygy at 5:17 AM on December 15, 2003


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