Thursday, September 22, 2016

A smattering of Romany

A smattering of Romany

One of English’s many underappreciated donor languages is Romany. Sadly (& historically), like their language, the Roma people have been similarly underappreciated.

In 1788 the word pal appeared in English. Pal comes from a Romany word meaning brother or comrade.

The noun cove, a word generally understood to be English slang for fellow, chap or man, arrived in English in the 1560s. Its source? A Romany word meaning that man.

Another colloquial English word for fellow, chap or man is bloke. Though some etymologists argue that bloke may have Celtic origins, many connect it to the Romany word loke, meaning a man.

The phrase “put up your dukes” is likely born of the Romany word dook, a word that refers to a hand read in palmistry.

Since the 1890s the word lush has meant drunkard. This meaning of lush most likely comes from a Romany word having to do with alcohol.

Though those of my era might assume the word nark is a shortening of narcotics, its source is Romany. The verb nark appeared in English in 1859 meaning to act as a police informer, and most likely came from the Romany word meaning nose.

The Romani - or Roma - people arrived in Europe some time around the 1100s from the region around India, and suffered incredible prejudice. Many European nations enacted laws that expelled Romani. In Medieval Denmark, England, & Switzerland Romani were simply put to death. In other parts of Europe, Romani were enslaved, & this slavery continued as late as the1800s. And during WWII two million Romani perished in Nazi “concentration camps”.

Even after all that persecution, some twelve million Romani still walk the earth (& give our language great words).

Big thanks to friend Aaron Keating, for suggesting this week’s topic, & thanks to this week’s sources: Merriam-Webster, Wordnik,  Etymonline, Collins Dictionary, LiveScience, & the OED.


  1. Wow. I had no idea about any of these. Words we use all the time. And we have no idea we're speaking Romani! Thanks for the enlightening!