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The term "Gypsy"?

plectromanplectroman Albany New YorkNew
edited December 2009 in History
Okay, here's something I've been wondering about for awhile. There is currently a controversy on this subject precipitated by a remark made by President Obama...he used the term "gyp" in a speech regarding insurance practices and he's now being accused of antitziganism. Okay, we all know that the term gypsy is used all the time in connection with this music that we all love. What I would like to know is the actual attitude of people of Romany descent when they hear or see the term used in this context? I feel it's important to know because we talk about this music a lot. Some of us are teachers and /or involved in the media and I'm sure it's something we could all stand to think about! I would especially like to hear from anyone who is of Romany descent or anyone who has a lot of first hand experience on this subject. Please don't turn this into a liberal-conservative question, that is not my intent. I'm mostly concerned with being respectful to a culture that has given the world so much beautiful art and how we can talk about their contribution respectfully Peace!
everything is everything


  • CalebFSUCalebFSU Tallahassee, FLModerator Made in USA Dell Arte Hommage
    I think in this instance we are talking about two separate issues. One is using the term "Gypsy" to describe people who are of Roma descent, and using the term "gyped" when discussing a transaction. One of these issues seems easy to me, using the term "gyped" is in my opinion as offensive as using any other ethnic stereotype to describe something. It seems the polite thing to do is to not use them. They are often offensive and perpetuate ignorance. The last thing I want the President of the United States to do (any president) is to perpetuate ethnic stereotypes in speeches. That being said the Roma are not a ubiquitous ethnic minority in this country and the Roma that are here are often not open about it and certainly don't advertise their Romaness. So it comes down to education. I have friends who would go ape sh*^ if they heard some one make the same remark and instead of "gyped" used a different ethnicity (Jewish, Arab, African American..etc) who had no idea what the term "gyped" meant. It is usually a matter of Education.

    The other issue is more difficult. As with most things I am sure you can find people who are not offended by a term and some that are. I know Michael has said that when he was in Holland the Sinti he met used the term as almost a sales pitch as a point of pride (although they didn't like the term Tzigeuner) Gypsy being an english word most didn't really care. They used it to name their bands (Paulus Schaefer Gypsy Band, Bireli Gypsy project). That being said I have a friend who is Bulgarian Roma who is very offended by the term Gypsy so there ya go. I think it might be prudent in the situation when you are speaking directly to some one of an ethnic group to err on caution and use the terms they use.
    When describing this music I will usually call it Hot Club swing or Django Reinhardt style swing. either way your'e going to have to do some describing to most people.
    Hard work beats talent, when talent doesn't work hard.
  • MichaelHorowitzMichaelHorowitz SeattleAdministrator
    I agree with Caleb, the term "gypped" is definitely pejorative and should be in the same category as racial slurs against other groups. But I see how the president could make this mistake as this term is so embedded in our culture (along with other racist stereotype of Sinti/Roma) that it doesn't even occur to anyone that it's offensive. Actually, I've even seen it in many dictionaries!

    Generally speaking the Sinti/Roma population of N.America is so small and has almost no representation in the political sphere so these sorts of offenses mostly go unchallenged, whereas a similar slur against other more vocal groups would cause quite a stir. Like what if he said "jewed?"....which is a term I heard a lot while living in the South and no one seemed to think there was anything wrong with it.

    It's probably safe to say that most Americans have never even knowingly met someone of Sinti/Roma descent....but it's different in Europe were this issue is much more public.

  • Yes, it is a complicated issue. Not being of Rom descent, I certainly cannot speak definitively, but wondered about the term, as well. Like CaelbFSU I think you could find folks who didn't find the term offensive when talking about their brand of jazz, and some who would.

    In my search for some answer, I read an interesting article, written by a Rom in response to a program that aired on KHPR in Honolulu back in 1997 http://www.romani.org/local/rwgbhltr.txt. The author speaks very eloquently to the many stereotypes that brand Roma people. While in some of the text the term 'Gypsy' is used, there is a statement of preference for the term 'Roma'. Again, this is just one person speaking, but if you take the time to read the article, I think you might be more inclined to use 'Roma' in future. In fact, you can find the same type of preference stated on the official Romani home page http://www.romani.org/.

    Now, I do think that since Michael spent quite some time studying and living among the Roma in pursuit of learning this style of music, the term 'Gypsy' is probably acceptable to describe the music. However, it may just be that Roma people themselves tire of explaining or caring about the misuse of the term. So, though I still cannot provide or know the answer, I'll use another term, as not all 'Gypsies' are of Roma descent, and since there is more than a few types of Roma music, the brand might just well be called 'Hot Club Swing'. It is the music legacy of Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli that we all find so rewarding.

    Best wishes to all
  • MichaelHorowitzMichaelHorowitz SeattleAdministrator
    JazzDawg wrote:
    Now, I do think that since Michael spent quite some time studying and living among the Roma in pursuit of learning this style of music, the term 'Gypsy' is probably acceptable to describe the music.

    It should be noted that most of the practitioners of "Gypsy jazz" are Sinti, not Roma. Some, like Raphael Fays and the Ferrets are Gitane (actually Boulou and Elios Ferre are half Jewish, and Dorado is a quarter Jewish). Most Sinti I spoke with didn't acknowledge any connection with the Rom, and many were outright hostile towards them!

    The Sinti don't like getting lumped in under the catch-all term "Rom" and have been lobbying to change the Romani World Congress to the Sinti and Romani World Congress.

  • plectromanplectroman Albany New YorkNew
    RE: Sinti vs Roma; now THAT'S interesting!
    everything is everything
  • Great comment Michael. Shows you how little I know about it! The one thing I do know - I love this style of music, and I don't care what it's called.
  • I was curious about the etymology of the word... looked it up...


    ca.1600, alteration of gypcian, a worn-down M.E. dial. form of egypcien "Egyptian," from the supposed origin of these people. Cognate with Sp. Gitano and close in sense to Turk. and Arabic Kipti "gypsy," Zingari / Tzigano from the It. and Ger., is of unknown origin.
    You get one chance to enjoy this day, but if you're doing it right, that's enough.
  • MichaelHorowitzMichaelHorowitz SeattleAdministrator
    Bob Holo wrote:

    ca.1600, alteration of gypcian, a worn-down M.E. dial. form of egypcien "Egyptian," from the supposed origin of these people. Cognate with Sp. Gitano and close in sense to Turk. and Arabic Kipti "gypsy," Zingari / Tzigano from the It. and Ger., is of unknown origin.

    The Rom/Sinti told people they were Egyptian Coptic Christians who were doing penance for making the nails used on Christ's cross. It was a total ruse of course but they still have the name Egyptian, or "Gypsy" because of it. During the middle ages there were loads of people making religious pilgrimages of all kinds and it was considered an obligation to help pilgrims. The Rom/Sinti took advantage of this by convincing everyone they were also pilgrims, but had to account for their darker complexion, hence the reference to Egypt. It only worked for a little while until everyone figured out what they were up to. But the name stuck....

  • Ian StenlundIan Stenlund Minnesota, USAâś­ Gallato Django
    Well, it was bound to happen at some point. Just got a facebook message from someone encouraging us to change the name of an event called "Gypsy Swing." She was not disrespectful in any way, but she is persistent.

    To me, it doesn't seem like the term Gypsy Jazz is going away. All the major festivals across the world use the term gypsy in the titles, and descriptions.

    Now, I don't think that common usage is enough a reason to say that the term is OK. Obviously, if a term is derogatory, it is no matter how much it's used.

    So, I guess the question is, are the Sinti and Roma people OK with the use of Gypsy in English to describe their music? I assume they are since, they are often headlining the festivals that use the term in their title.

    And, before we get into it, I already try to use "hot club jazz" right off the bat, to avoid the issue. But you also run into OTHER people describing your music on events and such. So, if it is an issue, I would ask it to be changed whenever it comes up.

    Thank you for your input!

    [Please let me know if I should start a new thread, but since there were good points raised here, I thought it'd be ok to re-open it.]
  • altonalton Keene, NHâś­âś­ 2000 Dell'Arte Long Scale Anouman, Gadjo Modele Francais, Gitane DG-330 John Jorgensen Tuxedo
    Great thread. I work with a gentleman from Germany (Montabaur, Rhineland-Palatinate), and while recently explaining to him that I play Gypsy Jazz, he said that I shouldn't use the word "Gypsy" as it is a derogatory word. He said that "Sinti" and "Roma" are much more acceptable. Now here is a person for whom English is not his first language, lives in a very small town in New Hampshire, and he is convinced that the English word "Gypsy" is bad. It seems to be true that a lot of musician's self-apply the term (such as Bireli with his "Gypsy Project" being perhaps one of the more important modern happenings in bringing this music into it's current popularity), I wonder where he learned that it is considered derogatory?
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