Lucian Cherata

The Etymology of the words țigan (gypsy) and (r)rom (romany)

By | 2017-03-20T07:16:43+00:00 23 December 2014|

The present paper analyses the etymology of the words țigan ‘Gypsy’ and (r)rom ‘Romany’. Previous approaches trace back the term țigan to the Greek word athingánōs, meaning ‘untouchable, pagan, impure,’ and (r)rom to the homonymous Persian term with the sense ‘man, husband, master of the house.’ I argue that, despite their long-established influence, these etymologies are misleading and partially inconsistent. I postulate instead that the two words are of Sanskrit origin. On this view, țigan goes back to the term at(i)-ingā-nin (‘a person who is on the move, a traveller, a nomad’). In Indian culture, nomadism and lack of purity were understood as two complementary dimensions of intangibility, a characteristic attributed to the so-called pariahs and the lower caste sudra. Due to close commercial and cultural relations between India and Byzantine Greece under the Seleucid dynasty, at(i)-ingā-nin may have entered the Greek language under the form athinganoi, with its original negative connotations enhanced by the local Christian context. As far as the word (r)rom and its variants dom and lom are concerned, a number of phonetically similar Sanskrit terms can be identified, all of which converge towards the meaning ‘lord, master of the house, husband.’ If we also take into account historical information related to the migration of the gypsy population from India, it is plausible to ascribe the term (r)rom a Sanskrit instead of a Persian origin.