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On the word “Gypsy”…

When I speak about the Roma or Romani people, many people still do not know who I am referring to: “You mean Romanians?” — a common question, to which I always have to explain, “No, not Romanians, Romani people are their own ethnic group with no physical land or country of their own.” Even after this explanation, many people are often still confused as to who I am speaking about. So usually the conversation ends with me giving up and giving in… “Gypsies.” I’ll say, frustrated and exasperated about that word being the only “recognizable” word for us to the outside world.

But what does the word “Gypsy” actually mean? Why is it the most commonly-used word for the Roma? And why do many of us Romani want the non-Roma world to stop using it?

To understand the meaning of the word “Gypsy” we must first go back to the origins of the Romani people. The Roma originated in northern India and migrated westward towards Europe in around the 11th century. When the first Romani people arrived in Eastern Europe, their dark features and foreign clothing and culture made them stand out from the Eastern Europeans and created a racial hierarchy, which lead to the Romani people becoming enslaved. The word Tsinganoi was used to describe them, meaning “slave” or “untouchable.” As the Roma travelled further westward they were incorrectly thought to be “Egyptians” by English-speaking people. The word “Gypsy” comes from both a shortening of the word “Egyptian” and a mix of different translations of the word Tsinganoi.

The word “Gypsy” in modern-day Europe (specifically, English-speaking Europe) became the most commonly used descriptor for Romani people because it was used for centuries by the majority populations in Europe to enslave the Roma and distinguish them as a separate group. In North America, the word became synonymous with the romanticized caricature of Romani people — “The mystical, wild, and free traveller.” It became known as more of an aesthetic, or “lifestyle” than a reference to a very real, existing people.

So why do many Romani want non-Roma to stop using the word “Gypsy”? Well, it should be clear enough already, but allow me to make it more clear: the word “Gypsy” comes from terms that were used to describe us as “slaves” or “untouchables” and it is a word that was put on our people by outsiders. It has also become used incorrectly by North American fashion, style, and people to describe appropriative or stereotypical aspects of Romani culture without actually referencing or accrediting the Roma.

With all this being said, there are many English-speaking Romani in the western world that have chosen to reclaim the word “Gypsy,” especially in North America and the UK (my own family has) and that is okay. But the important thing is to not default to the word “Gypsy” nor assume a Romani person or Romani people in general should be or want to be called by that term. Instead, use the term “Roma” or “Romani” and acknowledge the origins of the word “Gypsy” and how it refers to Romani people, not just an aesthetic.

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Roma vs. Romani vs. Romany

On this website and on Romangelica’s social media accounts, you may have seen the use of three different words — Roma, Romani, and Romany. While all of these words are connected, there can be confusion surrounding the use of these different words. In this post I will discuss a bit of background and explain the different contexts and usages of Roma, Romani, and Romany.

The word Roma is used as a general term to refer to the ethnic minority of people who originated in India centuries ago, and who now live as a diaspora around the world. The origin of the word comes from the Romanes (the language of the Roma) word “Rom,” which means “man.” When referring to the general ethnic group and collective people, the term Roma is most often used.

The word Romani is sometimes used interchangeably with “Roma,” but it is more often used as a descriptor term instead of a general noun. For example, when referring to the general ethnic population you would use “the Roma,” but when referring to a group of Romani individuals or a single Romani person, you would use “the Romani people.” In contextual terms, “Romani” is used as a descriptor or adjective, whereas “Roma” is used as a plural noun. As previously mentioned, however, sometimes the terms are used interchangeably. You could say, for example “I am Roma” or “I am Romani” and both are acceptable.

While the terms “Roma” and “Romani” are used by all Roma, the word Romany is used more specifically by English-speaking Roma. It functions the same way as the term “Romani” in that it is most often used as a descriptor but can also be used interchangeably with “Roma.” There is also a difference in pronunciation between “Romani” and “Romany.” The word Romani (row·maa·nee) emphasizes the “a,” whereas the word “Romany” (raa·muh·nee or row·muh·nee) emphasizes the “o.” This is simply due to differences in the English pronunciation of words.

The Roma are a culturally diverse people, with different words, dialects, and pronunciations. Learning how different Romani people refer to themselves and others is important in understanding our history and who we are today.

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Welcome to the Romangelica blog!

This blog page will be used for fun, useful, and relevant information about my jewelry, Romany culture and heritage, and special announcements! I won’t be using this blog for everyday, important updates as those will always be posted on my social media (@romangelicaboutique on Instagram and But if you’re interested in checking out some of my posts on jewelry making, gemstones, my Romany heritage and the Roma in general, feel free to check back here regularly for new blog posts!