<< Everything Was Fine | The Hulk Looks Totally Fakey! >>
Research Day: Gypped

I received email questioning my use of the term gypped, and apparently I'm not the first. I have used the word "gyp" both as a noun ("What a gyp") and as a verb ("You got gypped") all my life to mean "a fraud" and "to be cheated", respectively. I don't recall where I picked it up, but at my elementary school the term was ubiquitous and used to describe everything from Star Wars Trading Card transactions to unexpected pop quizzes.

After using the word once in college, though, someone told me that it was a racial slur against Gypsies. Lacking large populations of Gypsies in the Pacific Northwest, this had honestly never occurred to me. And I was still skeptical. After all, I was told this at The Evergreen State College, Washington State's stronghold of Political Correctness, where you can't say anything aloud ("I like peanut butter!") without someone announcing that you've just inadvertently committed ethnic slander of some sort or another. But soon thereafter I overheard someone using the word "jew" as a verb in the same sense ("He jewed me out of twenty dollars"), and that so clearly struck me as pejorative that I reconsidered my use of "gyp".

These days I rarely say "gyp," mainly because, having used it a lot in third grade, I tend to regard it as a "kid's word" on par with "lame-o". But I do still employ the term on occasion, so I guess I'd better find out the truth once and for all.

First stop, the dictionary. Merriam-Webster makes no reference to Gypsies in the definition (which it gives as "noun: FRAUD, SWINDLE; verb: CHEAT"), but does cite its etymology as "probably short for gypsy". Tally: one vote for "derogatory".

Next we head over to World Wide Words, where we hear from someone who's had an experience exactly opposite of my own: all their life they thought "gyp" was derogatory until someone told them that it wasn't. Michael Quinion responds, "It seems highly probable [that 'gyp' came from 'Gypsy']. However, direct evidence is lacking, and the term arose in the US, where gypsies have been less common than in Europe." He goes on to mention that "gyp" also means "a college servant" (this was also listed in Webster's), and suggests that this might have been the source of the "cheat" connotation. He also states "Even if the verb does come from gypsy, most people who use it probably don't link the two ideas." Tally: Half a vote for "derogatory against Gypsies," half a vote for "derogatory against college servants," one vote for "not intentionally derogatory in either case on the presupposition of ignorance".

Truth me told, despite all my research I never found anyone convincingly link "gyp" to anything other than the word "Gypsy" -- even the alternate meaning of "gyp," denoting a college student, seems to be an abbreviation of Gypsy. So, in that sense, I guess "derogatory" carries the day. However, I will personally vouch for the fact that many of the people using the word (at least around here) make no mental connection whatsoever between the term and people. This morning, for example, I asked The Queen if she used "gypped," and she said that she did; when I told her about the possible "gyp = Gypsy = racial slur" link, she looked rather aghast at the revelation.

Although my Googling found lots of people asserting that the word "gyp" is offensive, I didn't find a single instance where someone said that they, personally, were offended by the term -- except insofar as they were offended because they assumed that the word was offensive to others. A similar thing seems to have occurred with the word squaw, which many people (myself included) think of as a racial slur, even though the people it's allegedly slandering don't have a problem with it. All of which raises a vexing philosophical point: can something be offensive without actually offending? And given that "Gypsies" aren't even "Gypsies" anymore (they prefer to be known as the Roma), what's the statute of limitation on stuff like this? Would it be okay to say that that you'd been "Aztec'd out of twenty dollars"?

The comments are open, and I'm interested in hearing what readers think. In particular (a) do you use the word "gyp," (b) is its usage prevalent in your area, (c) were you aware that it is considered offensive by some, and (d) are you personally offended by its use?

Previous Research Days: Hotel California, Daylight Savings Time, Odds n Ends.

Posted on June 18, 2003 to Research Day


I don't use "gyp," "jew" or "welsh" as synonyms for cheat.

I use "Bush."

Posted by: enfanta on June 18, 2003 9:19 AM

Funny. I use "Clinton."

Posted by: Laurie on June 18, 2003 9:35 AM

Thanks for watching "Crossfire". We'll now return to the question at hand.

Posted by: Matthew on June 18, 2003 9:39 AM

"Gyp" was in use in my childhood Louisiana, but not so much today, and certainly not here in sunny SoCal. I can't swear that I've never used the term, but I don't remember using it since at least fourth grade.

Interestingly, and tangentially, I recently heard a family member (the Only Other Democrat) call another member of the family on his use of the term "buck naked," saying that this offensive term originated in the slave trade, when male slaves ("bucks") were kept naked to fully display their forms on the auction block. I'm still a bit dubious, and Word Wizard's got nothing of the sort. Any insights?

Posted by: KF on June 18, 2003 9:54 AM

That's a new one by me, KF. Take Our Word For It deems the connection unlikely.

Posted by: Matthew on June 18, 2003 10:00 AM

Hmm. Must be a reverse-etymological construction, like all that flap about "niggardly" a couple of years ago.

Posted by: KF on June 18, 2003 10:05 AM

The Oxford English Dictionary shows no link between gyp (either as a noun or verb) and gypsy.

The first meaning for gyp as a noun is a college servant, esp. one who attends undergraduates. The second meaning is a thief, and the third is a fraudulent action or swindle. First use was 1914 in the US.

As a verb, the meaning is to cheat, trick, or swindle.

Posted by: MA on June 18, 2003 10:26 AM

i'm pretty sure gyp is derogatory. I seem to remember reading stories about gypsies and how they cannot be trusted. Not that I buy those stories.

kinda reminds me of "jerry-rigged" [about germans] etc. something plenty of people use, but don't really know where it came from.

usage isn't that prevalent, we all tend to say 'screwed' which i suppose is derogatory to fasteners in general.

i'm not personally offended by its use, unless its use is purposefully intended to be offensive by the respective user.

Posted by: adam on June 18, 2003 10:27 AM

My guest spot on Crossfire is over...

I don't think I've ever used the word. I was raised a Unitarian Jew, so we were not allowed to use certain words during my childhood. I once called my older brother a "hole" within earshot of my father. He pulled me aside rather forcibly. It wasn't the specific use of the word "hole" that he objected to. It was that "hole" sounded too much like "Pole."

But since I don't personally know any Gypsies, the use of "gyp," while uncreative, doesn't offend me personally.

Posted by: Laurie on June 18, 2003 10:33 AM

Growing up in New England I used it much the same way you did, mainly as a youngster on the playground, and almost exactly the same usage, as in "35 cents for a comic? What a gyp!" So the usage would seem to be coast to coast, initially.

I have no idea where I learned it and also have relegated it to "kiddie vocabulary". Used as "gypped", the usage seems quite prevalent: a Google search of gypped of returns plenty of examples.

I would never have considered it derogatory, although your reasoning does make sense once pointed out.

Posted by: smooth_j on June 18, 2003 10:40 AM

I used it while still a wee boy in rural Ontario. Personally, I am shocked to find that I have been pronouncing it incorrectly my entire life ("jipped" rather than "gypped"). My suggestion to those who would like to use the word in modern P.C. parlance could simply pronounce it "jipped" rather than "gypped" and avoid the whole fiasco.

Posted by: Dense on June 18, 2003 11:02 AM

I used gypped as a youngster here in Ohio. Had never heard the "derogatory word" theory until about five minutes ago. Still not sure I buy it. It's a nice story though.

My personal opinion is that words only carry power if you give them power. People who look for reasons to be offended not only go through life very upset, they also destroy the beautiful variety that is the English language. A word is just a word. It is the intention of the speaker that can be offensive.

Posted by: KOTWF on June 18, 2003 11:41 AM

I never cease to find it amazing that in modern society people manage to be offended by things in which clearly no intent to be offensive was meant. It's like people just want to be offended and look for reasons to be.

Someone should have to be obviously TRYING to be offensive to get any kind of serious rise out of people. It's a sad world where you can be having a perfectly pleasant conversation and someone gets offended by your use of some word or other because they think it means something clearly outside the context it was used in.

Posted by: Andrew on June 18, 2003 11:45 AM

I remember seeing expressions like "gypped" and "Aw man, what a gyp" in Hardy Boys books and whatnot. But whether "gypped" is a kick against Gypsies or college servants (those nasty cheaters), I'm curious as to whether Roma think it's offensive. There are actually a great deal more in North America than most people imagine. There's a fair number in Vancouver, so there's your Pacific Northwest population. Many of them came over from Eastern Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Someone should conduct a survey of immigrant Roma and find out.

Of course, it could be a slur against Egyptians.

Posted by: palinode on June 18, 2003 12:23 PM

Do you feel "gypped" when listening to the Fleetwood Mac song "Gypsy"? If you're in a room with some lace and paper flowers?

Posted by: john on June 18, 2003 12:28 PM

The same Sacramento councilwoman who made the infamous "percentile" quote last week (see link, June 12) also recently caused a big stir over a council speaker using the phrase "let's call a spade a spade."

Perhaps the city could afford smarter council members if they weren't a bunch of lousy niggards.

(running for the hills)

D.Y., your site continues to be one of the best on the web. Thank you. The segway graphic was hilarious.

Posted by: K on June 18, 2003 12:54 PM

I always get busted for saying "That is so retarded" but really, I just mean, slower than average. It doesn't go over well with my husband, whose little brother has Down Syndrome.
It's a phrase stuck in me from many, many uses on the bus in 6th grade.
It's hard to kick old phrases.

Posted by: dayment on June 18, 2003 12:55 PM

I'm part of a sketch comedy performing group here at Penn State, and one of our sketches uses "What a gyp!" as its final line. We've only performed it live twice, but I don't remember any complaints from offended audience members. I think we were always more worried that people would find the mock Indian accents offensive, if anything.

I don't have a copy of the OED in front of me (or anywhere, for that matter, since it's really quite expensive), but if MA is right and it doesn't list a connection, there likely isn't one to be found.

Posted by: Fred on June 18, 2003 12:56 PM

I've used the word all my life...mainly because I'm gullible and am always getting gypped by people.

Since the OED gave me this etymology, and since it's the only one that actually applies to stealing, I'm gonna say it's derogatory toward valets at Cambridge. If I ever meet one I'll apologize but until then I'm gonna keep using it.

And isn't it interesting that all of the modern dictionaries simply say "presumed to be offensive" without giving any reason for this belief? Lets keep our dictionaries free from the political correctness!

1805 H. K. WHITE in Rem. (1819) I. 209 My bed-maker, whom we call a gyp, from a Greek word signifying a vulture, runs away with everything he can lay his hands on.

E. Cobham Brewer 1810–1897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898.


A college servant, whose office is that of a gentleman’s valet, waiting on two or more collegians in the University of Cambridge. His perquisites are innumerable, and he is called a gyp (vulture, Greek) because he preys upon his employer like a vulture. At Oxford they are called scouts.

Posted by: Duane on June 18, 2003 1:04 PM

I almost emailed you an admonishment when I saw you use that word yesterday. I don't use gyp. I try very hard not to use "gay" or "retarded." I use "white" instead, because being white is about as lame as it gets. Let's face it. Also I got into a fight with someone once because they didn't see that calling someone a cocksucker was slanderous to gay men. Besides, why is being a cocksucker a bad thing. If you are a cocksucker, you are AOK in my book. Cocksucker is a freaking compliment! (Enjoy your google referrals, by the way)

Posted by: kfan on June 18, 2003 1:19 PM

7 years ago, as a resident advisor in the dorms at the Univ. of WA we were trained that "gyp" "jewed" and "retard" were all unacceptable slang terms. Ultimately, I've never met an actual Gypsy let alone one who was offended by the term "gyp". However, I don't know any people with Downs Syndrome to feel in my heart that it's offensive to use "retard" in a derrogatory manner. Being politically correct has become something of a joke and is seen as something carried way too far. (The aforementioned "niggardly" comment is a good example.) But the vast english language has so many synonyms for the words under question, why not use them instead? Just for my own peace of mind I'd rather say I felt "cheated" "slighted" or "shorted" instead of "gypped". That way I can duck the controversy entirely.

Posted by: suzanne on June 18, 2003 1:30 PM

yeah, i used to use fag a lot in HS, but when i went to an east coast college and it was pointed out that FAG was a slur against faggotts and NOT a bundle of sticks, well i stopped using it right away.

Posted by: DG on June 18, 2003 2:04 PM

I think it's origin is obviously derogatory, even if most people nowadays use it without meaning to offend Gypsies. I don't use it because... well, it just doesn't sound right to me. Also because I'm Mexican, so I pretty much speak Spanish all the time.

No, but really. I'm Jewish, and not of the easily offended kind, but I really don't like it when I hear or read the word "jew" as in "he jewed me out of 20 dollars", even if the person doesn't mean it in a derogatory way towards the Jews. It sounds disgusting to me. I mean, maybe that person doesn't happen to know the origin of that particular use of the word, but does that make it... less wrong?

What if, in time, the name "Jack" lost it's meaning to a group of people and they started to use it as a synonym for, let's say, dog? What would you tell tho someone named Jack when he sees a kid point to a mutt and go, "Look mommy, what an ugly and slobbery Jack!" Maybe the kid means no harm, but think about Jack...

Posted by: Aron on June 18, 2003 2:26 PM

In the UK 'gyp' is a pain or a hinderance as in 'my back's giving me gyp' however the connection between it and gypsy has never been a consideration on this side of the pond (as far as i know) maybe, if gypsies dont mind, you shouldn't worry about it.

Posted by: Jamie on June 18, 2003 4:02 PM

First of all, I never looked 'gypped' up in the dictionary, but I HAVE read pages and pages of info on gypsies on the net, in my time. (I had reasons to do so, never mind about that.) It was in my research on gypsies that I found out that the term 'to gyp' was in fact originally coined/intended as a slur against gypsies. Sorry, no, I don't remember what website I read it on. I don't use the slang term gyp, but I stopped doing that when I was a kid anyway. I don't use 'jew' or 'nigger' either. *shrug* Personal choice, man.

Now, for the word squaw. Uhm, yep, that word is used incorrectly. It offends, but not because of political correctness, the way you might think.

Told to me by an Indiana storyteller (educator) at the reenactment of the battle of 1812, Marion Indiana:
The word squaw is in fact offensive, because it is misused. People learn that word from tv and movies, and they think it means indian woman or indian wife. It does not. The word was learned incorrectly by white soldiers fighting a war, far from home for months at a time, who when they were in need of a particular service (to put it gently), pointed at their crotch and then to a woman. The indians would then nod their understanding. "Dumsquah." It was white man who took that word to be "squaw", meaning woman, but it is in fact "dumsquah", a part of man's anatomy.

You never learn these things in Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, huh?


Posted by: Gypsy on June 18, 2003 4:37 PM

The Greek word for "vulture" is gyps (spelled gamma-upsilon-psi, pronounced with a hard G). The word "Gypsy" comes from Egyptian, which is similar in Greek.

So it is possible that "gyp" meaning "to cheat" comes from the Greek word for vulture, but it is also possible that it comes from the word "Gypsy." I would guess that it is more likely that the use of "gyp" is at least partially stimulated by stereotypes of Gypsies, and that the term should therefore be regarded as at least potentially derogatory.

One could start a discussion about whether the stereotypes about Gypsies (Roma) aren't at least somewhat true, in the sense that at least some of them lead a lifestyle that is distinctly at odds with modern social conventions having to do with interactions with strangers, such that the interactions between Gypsies and outsiders are frequently not pleasant for the outsider. (Similarly, it's a stereotype that the Amish are old-fashioned, but it seems to me to be demonstrably true.) However, that seems to be a tedious road to go down, so I won't go down it.

Posted by: alkali on June 18, 2003 4:47 PM

Yep; I agree with Jamie -- in Ireland and the UK, 'gyp' has never, to the best of my knowledge, been linked to gypsies. BTW it's pronounced 'jip' over there at least, Dense will be happy to hear.

notes another etymology from the Oxford English Dictionary (my favourite):

'The O.E.D. (Oxford English Dictionary), however, doesn’t dishonor the Romany people, deriving gyp from ‘gee-up,’ which meant ‘to treat roughly’ in some localities of England.'

PS: using 'jew' as a verb is totally offensive, for sure, though!

Posted by: Justin on June 18, 2003 5:06 PM

As keen followers of this site, but never having before posted, we felt compelled to add our "twopennorth" (or two cents as you would say) to this one. Also from the UK, we like Jamie and Justin have heard and used the term "OOooh, my backs giving me jip" or "He's giving me jip" meaning it's a bit of a pain or he's a bit of a pain. The term Gypsy does originate from Egyptian. It started when traders began to come over to Europe and in particular England from the Far East, namely Egypt. They sold gold and trinkets and being sallow skinned individuals, and the English being none too fond of those back in the good old 17th Century, they became known as Gypsies! This umbrella term then became popular usage for anyone of any type of "foreign" sallow skinned origin, and embraced the Italians, Spaniards and anyone who had the temerity to wear gold earrings! As far as political correctness goes, well we are INUNDATED with it in good old Blighty and we can't even say "Blackboard" any more for the thing that your teacher used to write on at the front of the classroom. This is now termed a "whiteboard" or "Wipeboard" or "Chalkboard", in case it offends our tanned brethren. Most black people wouldn't even consider it an insult anyway but hey! Let's all be politically correct. On the more worrying nature is some people's tendency to refer to others as "Mongs" (Mongols or Downs Syndrome!!!) and Retard or Spastic! These are abhorrent terms, used against people who cannot help their disability. We like Jip though, and will continue to use it without fear of causing a racist incident! By the way keep up the good work, this is a brilliant website!

Posted by: Tish and Gomez on June 18, 2003 6:10 PM

Back in grade school that word was very common in my conservative western michigan school. But as I have grown up the word seems to be used less and less, kind of like the other popular word butt-face. Although I suppose as people grow up they find better words to express stuff.

Posted by: Jose on June 18, 2003 7:45 PM

My professor at UT Austin, Ian Hancock, is or was the U.N. Ambassador of the Romani Gypsies. I remember him writing a vitriolic letter to the local alt-weekly for using "gyp," but unfortunately I can't find it online.

There is a very long and enlightening article written by him (which only indirectly addresses the "gyp" issue) here.

Posted by: kmel on June 18, 2003 8:01 PM

Chambers dictionary of etymology:

gyp Slang. to cheat, swindle. 1889, American English, probably a shortening of GYPSY.

Posted by: Paul on June 18, 2003 8:57 PM

Not sure about the "jerry-rigged" thing, Adam.

"Jury-rigged" dates from the 1600s, and "Jerry-built" is Liverpudlian and predates both World Wars, at least (well, so says this)

Posted by: Paul on June 18, 2003 9:27 PM

I would dispute the use of "Aztec'd out of twenty dollars" only on the grounds that that doesn't sound like a very Aztec-y thing to do.

Maybe "He Aztec'd my heart right out" or "Steve was Aztec'd right in the face with a long, thin wooden clud studded on either side by sharp chunks of volcanic glass, or obsidian."

Posted by: Jay on June 18, 2003 11:29 PM

I say "gyp" quite frequently, but very few people in the rural South do. And I've never heard of anyone being offended by it...

However, I can tell you one term that IS offensive, and seems native to the South. Instead of "jury-rigged/jerry-rigged," Southern people will say "Oh, I nigger-rigged it." And if their is a person of color present, they will ususally follow with, "Oh, I'm sorry, I mean I afro-engineered it."

No fooling, dude.

Posted by: Edgeling on June 19, 2003 12:23 AM

My god, I just typed "their" instead of "there."

Somebody, take my beer! No more drunken noteleavin' for this white boy!

Posted by: Edgeling on June 19, 2003 12:25 AM

Yo Edge-

I grew up in the South as well. I grew up hearing "n-rigged", and it wasn't until I was in my teens had I ever heard jerry/jury-rigged. But I thought the term they were actually using (at the time) was gheri-rigged. As in gheri-curl. Sorry if I got the spelling off on that one. I figured it was someone's attempt at being more PC and not using the n-word to describe their creative engineering work.

I don't have a point here, just felt like telling a little story.

Thank you for hours of entertainment, Matthew!


Posted by: Brian on June 19, 2003 1:13 AM

Gyps are the servants, not the students.

From the OED: "1805 H. K. WHITE in Rem. (1819) I. 209 My bed-maker, whom we call a gyp, from a Greek word signifying a vulture, runs away with everything he can lay his hands on." Earliest citation is 1750. The first use in the US sense of 'thief' is dated 1889, and in the sense of 'fraudulent action' 1914, so it could derive from this UK sense.

These days the only thing gyps run away with is the rubbish in wastepaper baskets.

Posted by: Rory on June 19, 2003 5:02 AM

kfan: "I use 'white' instead, because being white is about as lame as it gets."

I can't tell if this was supposed to be a joke, but it doesn't exactly read like one, so...
I find it upsetting that PC-types are so careful not to offend anybody, or let anyone else offend anybody, EXCEPT white people. The reasoning, I guess is that no whites have ever suffered indignity or insult, so payback is okay. What a load! If people's feelings are important, EVERYBODY'S feelings should count. BTW, I am not "white" by the standard definition - I am Hispanic, Latino, Brown, whatever - I speak Spanish.

As for "gyp", I used to use it. I don't anymore but I think I just outgrew it. Never thought of the origin before. Interesting theories, I will consider them in future use. I do not believe words are offensive unless intended to be (see above). There are too many poeple in the world wasting way too much energy on being offended by anything. It is every person's right to be offensive and offended by anything, as well as to criticize both, but nobody's right to prevent other's from offending (with words) or being offended.

Also, I like "azteced" the way it was first used, particularly because the use placed the slighted person in the place of the historic victim ("I was treated like the Aztecs").

Have a great day!

Posted by: Brown on June 19, 2003 5:44 AM

Right on, Brown. Words are words, it's what is intended that is offensive. I can make "White Guy From Seattle" sound derogatory if I try hard enough.

Posted by: KOTWF on June 19, 2003 6:50 AM

So long as the person I am racially, sexually, religiously, nationally, or socially slandering is not standing right in front of me, I am going to enjoy my right to use phrases and words all those fucking gyppin' jew squaw retarded whoremaster greasy wop goombah crippled mick raghead cameljockey sandnigger slant-eyed yellow chink redneck spic wetback kraut gook frenchy faggot nigger bitch spooks might or might not find offensive. If I missed a group, I apologize.

Posted by: Budro on June 19, 2003 7:06 AM

Well, I suppose it could be worse. We could all be Bush supporters.

Posted by: Baron Xemo on June 19, 2003 9:36 AM

I used gyp all the time as a kid. I would have never spelled it that way. Come to think of it, I don't know how I would spell it. Haven't used it in years. I do use a lot of terms like this though. For instance, is someone cuts in front of me in line, I say that thay 'japped' me. That looks really stupid in print, so I'm going to stop. When I was a kid, my mother called a shirt with no sleaves, what some people call a wife beater, a ginnie T. I grew up in New Jersey where there are like 30,000 Italians per square mile and I always would wince when she said it.

Posted by: Mark on June 19, 2003 9:50 AM

What is it about college and learning what "gyp" really means? It was in a UT Austin class that the topic came up and a fellow student informed us that it was an offensive term. I guess since then I've cut back on my usage of it, but it's hard to say if that's due to growing up or because of the awareness. I do get a slight twinge of guilt after I use the term these days, but yet it hasn't stopped me completely.

Posted by: April on June 19, 2003 10:16 AM

Seattle and Spokane also have sizable Romani populations, but because of unflattering stereotypes, many find it easier to just "pass" as something else.

In answer to your questions: No, I don't use it because I associate it with an ethnic slur. It is a common term in my area. I'm not personally offended by it because the term doesn't personally insult my heritage, and because most people have no idea where their words come from.

Posted by: visitor on June 19, 2003 10:22 AM

Fascinating. Yeah, I try to not use gyp myself unless there's a lot of airquotes in the sentence: that faggot totally gyped me while I was trying to jew him down. And only among friends. Preferably central European friends.

I actually had a (very Jewish-identified) client at work apologize for trying to Jew me down on a price (her words) a while back. It made me fall in love with her.

Posted by: Choire on June 19, 2003 11:30 AM

I use gyp frequently, although when I spell it out sometimes I use "jipped" not due to any PC sensitivities, but because it never really crossed my mind that it might have "gypsie" in the connotation.

So, to answer your questions:

a). I use it frequently
b). Yes, lots of people use the term in the Chicago burbs.
c). I am aware that the terribly thin-skinned find it offensive, and I don't care.
d). Obviously, I am not offended by its use.

The main point for me here is that it's never been *proven* (as you've found) that "gyp" is related or derogatory to "gypsy." Also, I don't really care if it is. I have never personally ever met, bumped into, or even so much as *seen* a gypsy from a distance. Also, I've never heard of any good stories about gypsies. Every single time I've seen gypsies on TV, it's because they've swindled someone. This may seem like a gross overgeneralization, but it's the truth. Please someone tell me the last time they saw a roving band of gypsies who weren't caught ripping some old people off. Because that's all I ever hear about when the term is brought up. It would be one thing if people were saying "Oh damn, I've been Romani'd." The term gypsie implies something else. And as you found out, using "gyp" doesn't mean an ethnic slur against gypsies anyway.

Posted by: Bowler on June 19, 2003 1:12 PM

Wow, never really thought of that before. Of course, I'll still use it, because I don't think it's offensive, but it's still an interesting pseudo-factoid.

This makes me question another slang word that I use frequently in my vocabulary: "gank". Gank: (verb) to borrow without permission; to steal. I wonder if there's any interesting origin story for "gank"...

Posted by: Erin on June 19, 2003 3:46 PM

what's the difference in pronunciation between "jipped" and "gypped" ...I don't get it

Posted by: blah on June 19, 2003 5:38 PM

gah! i've been sensitized :D

Posted by: DG on June 19, 2003 6:00 PM

yeah i always thought it was "jipped"...must've heard it in grade school or something, that's when people used it a lot. haven't heard it much as of recently... (i live in new york city, btw..) never made the connection to gypsy, but probably b/c i thought it was spelled differently. oh well, i don't particularly care too much unless someone i know tells me that they are personally offended by it. but me and my friends call each other chinks so...they're not really the type to care too much either...

Posted by: Janice on June 19, 2003 9:56 PM

In contrast to your other UK correspondents, I have heard the word 'Gypped' (pron. Jipped) in a similar way that 'jewed' or 'welsh' would be used.

Gypsies (called 'Pikeys' in South-East England) in the UK are about the last people who you can legally discriminate against. Some pubs have a sign outside which says 'No Travellers' - which means New Age 'Eco-Warrior' Travellers, Irish Travellers (who are an ethnic group from Ireland who are neither Roma or standard Irish), as well as Roma Gypsies.

Viz comic had a strip called Thieving Gypsy Bastards, which got into legal trouble when a local gypsy tried to prosecute them. It didn't help his case that he was later imprisoned for stealing cars.

The word 'gypped' reminds me of the word maroon:

Also, Joey Skaggs:


Posted by: David Soul on June 20, 2003 9:08 AM

I stopped my use of "gyp" years ago. I now prefer "screwed". not that I think I would be slandering any gypsies. I just prefer sexual conotations whenever possible.... (did I say that out loud?)

Posted by: boomratt on June 20, 2003 9:27 AM

Here's another idea:

The term actually originated in Europe where marble was (and still is) the most prized and expensive building material. However it was not uncommon for unscrupulous masons to substitue the similar, but less expensive and less durable material alabaster in all but the most visible locations. This, of course, was done without the owners immediate knowledge.

Alabaster, if you know your rocks, is a common form of the mineral Gypsum (http://geollab.jmu.edu/Fichter/Minerals/Minerals/gypsumala.html)

So, when the builder discussed his misdeed with his fellow masons, he would claim that he had really "Gyp"-ped the guy, meaning that he had substituted Gypsum(alabaster) for marble at a tidy, ill-gotten profit.

Posted by: Kram Suibom on June 20, 2003 2:18 PM

I've used the term before, never thought about where it came from. I learned it while growing up in D.C., not sure if I'd consider its use "prevalent" though.

It does remind me that as a kid it took me a long time to realize that Polack jokes were offensive, because it never occurred to me that a Polack was a Polish person--I'd always heard Polish people referred to as, well, Polish people so I assumed a Polack was just a dumb guy (of no particular ethnicity) until someone explained it to me one day.

Posted by: Larisa on June 20, 2003 10:30 PM

it's also interesting to note that "gyp" and "gyppy" are the only words in the OED that are composed entirely of descenders.

Posted by: ChrisL on June 21, 2003 1:48 PM

This is a fasinating conversation line. I wanted to present a point of view from someone who is actually working with Roma in the Czech Republic.

Being an slang term, none of my collegues here who speak English have ever heard it used, and so cannot be offended by its connotation. But I wanted to point out that even if they knew it was bad, you would most likely not hear any complaints from them. With the level of discrimination they face, skinhead attacks, etc., the context of a word will not matter.

in fact, i was pointing out that the def. of gypsy on dictionary.com is disgustingly offensive and i will make a complaint (check it out) and the comment i received was ´why bother? changing a definition of a word will not stop racism.´

what do you think of this?

Posted by: Anonymous on June 24, 2003 2:54 AM

and read this, off the website: http://www.blacksheepbellydance.com/files/plrom.html

entitled ´Please call me Rom´

...I want to tell you about their suffering and the persecution they've endured throughout the centuries. I want to tell you how to fight the enemy which is ignorance; to tell you about prejudice and stereotypes. This doesn't apply only to Rroma. Look how Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos, Mexicans, Asians, Hippies etc.. are treated in this country, not to mention Gays and Lesbians. These two words: prejudice and ignorance, represent our biggest ENEMIES. But prejudice and ignorance cannot be overcome unless some exchange takes place. So, that is why I am writing this story.

I was GYPPED. The word "gypped" derives from Gypsy and is a racist slur based on the stereotype that Gypsies always cheat people; it implies that you have been swindled. We have been raised with the expression, (and even today people continue telling it to their children): "If you don't behave I'm going to leave you out and Gypsies are going to steal you". Czechs are calling Rroma "dirty Gypsies, horse thieves, uneducated", etc... Bulgarians are calling us or refer to Rroma as "dark-skinned, villains, incorrigible perpetrators, criminals", etc... Hungarians are referring to Rroma as "Olive skinned". In ex-Yugoslavia where I come from, they call us "beggars, dirty Gypsy", etc...

Posted by: Anonymous on June 24, 2003 2:57 AM

Speaking of getting screwed over (gyped), for a while I thought that "Indian giver" was a slur until someone told me that, yeah, it's a slur against the white men who screwed the Native Americans over. So I guess it's okay to use this one.

Posted by: JayD.W. on June 24, 2003 1:23 PM

I've always used words like "gypped", "gay" and "retarded", never intentionally slurring gypsies, homosexuals, and folks with down syndrome... when it's something you've grown up using, and is part of common vernacular, it's hard to stop using it. Also, when you don't know anyone that's offended by it, you really don't have much reason to stop. If I had a gay friend that was offended by it, I might stop... if I had a straight friend who was offended by my using the word "gay", I would smack them and tell them to shut up :)

Posted by: Ryan Waddell on June 25, 2003 10:19 AM

i came to this board looking to clear something up.
i live in Cambridge, UK. firstly, the people employed to clean student rooms might have traditionally been called gyps, but nowadays we call them bedders. in some colleges they do even make your bed for you; clearly intelligence suppresses the ability to carry out simple household chores. however, collective kitchen equipment in college halls are found in "gyp rooms", which used to be the space reserved for bedders as storerooms. it has absolutely no relation to gypsies.
secondly, jip in UK English does not mean 'screwed over' but irritating and again has no ready connection to gypsies. as someone said earlier, the thing most likely to 'give you jip' is a part of your own anatomy. my back is frequently giving me jip.
thirdly, gypsy comes from the mistaken belief that roma came from egypt and was initially purely descriptive, although i don't doubt it could be used in a a derogatory fashion, much as 'white man from seattle'. in the UK no one is even remotely aware that gypsies are in theory roma (rroma if you're from romania and want to highlight the difference), and gypsy is not per se derogatory, but again descriptive. the term pikey, for gypsy, was put into fashion by the film 'snatch' and i find it immensely offensive. it's use is purely pejorative.
fourthly, and here's my question. in cambridge there is a large traveller/gypsy/roma/pikey community but they are far from 'swarthy'. indeed more often than not they have red hair. this has made me question exactly what the difference is between these terms. i've been to eastern europe and met roma; they are racially and culturally distinctive and sadly are widely despised by the non-roma population. it's true that when brushed past by a roma woman on a train platform you can feel fingers trying at pockets. its also true that marginalized groups around the world will have a go at tourists as easy pickings. and why not. you're told by the rest of the country that you're nothing but a horsethief, you can't get a decent job because of your skin, etc. in the czech republic they frequently carry out surveys which show that most czechs would be happier living next to a drug dealer than a roma. the racism is deepl, deeply ingrained...
anyway, i'm straying 'off message'. my question is:
why do 'gypsies' in the UK look more like the descendants of itinerant irishmen than roma? is there a meaningful distinction?

Posted by: RichardJ on June 27, 2003 3:45 AM

if anyone knows the answer to the above question could you email me to let me know? i will be eternally grateful. thanks.

Posted by: RichardJ on June 27, 2003 3:48 AM

There is actually a very large Rom (plural)presence in Spokane, Washington. There was a very large scandal in '86, when a Baró (family head, literally Big Man) had been keeping $150,000 in cash at his home, as the extended family did not like banks. Peculiarities like this abound. They made a nice little movie about it called AMerican Gypsy (not nearly thurough enough, IMHO).


The point is not whether people make a connection with 'gyp' to Gypsy. It's that when people think Gypsy, they think 'thief'. Otherwise, people would not have the same kneejerk reaction to the 'news' that it is a derogatory term. While the etemological proof is lacking, it was likely this thinking that spawned the coloquialism 'gyp', and prompted them to desire a societal name change.

As to the Irish Gypsies in the UK, many families of Gypsies dating back to 1500 were on 'pilgramages' (which, interstingly enough, is where they came by the name Gypsies, as they were assumed to be from Egypt), where they were really just wandering from town to town grifting and plying simple trades to feed themselves. Highways were rather rough, and many, many people banded together into toghter groups to survive.

Lots of societal coustoms plaid a part there too, the marriage of a daughter to someone who unknowingly propesed marriage by sharing bread, etc. Granted, most, if not all of these were concocted to get peoples trust.

Are all Gypsies liars and thieves? No. Were some Gypsies liars and thieves? Definately.

They had as tough a time in Nazi Germany (tougher, by some counts), and are looking to establish themselves in the world.

Really good resource on Romani Language:

Posted by: Tim on July 10, 2003 3:46 AM

I am from Australia and the term gypped was also used there in my childhood. I don't use it myself and have never considered its etymology previously. Sometimes I think we can assume a derogatory meaning where there is none though. For example I have been using the term 'mongy' for years to mean bad or ridiculous. This was actually a shortening of the name Mongers, the surname of someone known to a friend who was apparently a bit of an idiot - somone I didn't know incidentally but I had picked the expression up and it stuck with me. Recently someone heard me use this term and took offense at my percieved slur of mongoloids (a connection it had never even occured to me to make). The point is that gyp really could come from anywhere and it is your own connection with percieved traits that is making you feel offended, not the word itself.

Posted by: saima on July 31, 2003 5:58 PM

First, "gyp" and "jip" are pronounced exactly the same way -- I don't know why people are making this discussion in this thread about the differing UK and American pronunciations.

Second, could it be possible that the term Gypsy and gyp share the same root (as noted above by several people), and thus the term Gypsy itself is the derogatory term? That is, using gyp is fine, but calling someone a Gypsy, not so fine?

Posted by: zod on August 7, 2003 12:14 PM

I'm pretty sure it is short for "Gypsy" but I'm not sure why it would be a big deal. Unless I happen to meet a Gypsy and learn that they are in fact not at all like that, which I haven't though I'm sure they're very nice people. Wherever they are.

Posted by: michelle on August 21, 2003 6:48 PM

I too, was just introduced to the connection between "gypped" meaning screwed and "gypsy". Incidently, this was also in college, The Evergreen State College, which as noted by the original poster in this thread is so PC it has become a constraint, not the liberating ideal it is advertised as.

I've done some (though not extensive) research, and have come to the conclusion that some people say it definitely came from "gypsy", some say definitely not, but in fact it can not be proven either way. Since the common use of "gypped" is not at all in reference specifically to any group of people, and since there is no evidence that it historically relates, there IS NO CONNECTION. There is no contextual connection, it is not intended as insulting to Rom, nor can it be related historically, although it arguably would not matter even if the only connection was historical.

What bothers me are the people who say I can not say "gypped", but they can say "fag" because they are gay, or because they only mean it as gay, without negative connotation. There are gays who are offended by the word, regardless of who says it or what its connotation. That is their right, as it is my right to use "gypped" or "jipped" to mean ripped off, especially given that even those offended by the word know that I personally hold nothing against the Roma people.

I only ask that people stay consistant. Be offended by all words or not based on their origin, or none at all.

Posted by: Kyle on January 15, 2004 3:55 PM

The media tends to portray groups of people differently because of management prejudices. Most of the people that decide what the stories are that will be broadcasted/printed that day of major newscenters are white and middle/upper class. For example, that's why you see more blacks and hispanics in poorer neighborhoods being chased/ accused/ prosecuted/ suspected for a crime that whites in better off neighborhoods. In many locations, violent crimes committed in a richer neighborhood are given more importance and air time because they are "less expected" and therefore more relevant. Similar crimes in poor neighborhoods are often scimmed over and given an air of "normal". However, studdies have shown that more crime is committed by suburban youth than urban/ poor youth (I don't remember if thats the most common source of crime or if its just more compared to the urban ones). Look up some studies on this; you'll find on an incidence shown vs. incidence occured, many peoples are misrepresented in the media. Latinos are particularly portrayed as troublemakers and black men as violent. It's all about what the managers *choose* to cover, and they have lots of stereotypes on their own. The media is all about a small group of people deciding on stories they think are relavent, they think are representative, and they think will make get the most viewers or readers for the most amount of money out of advertising.

And think about it. The media is one of people's main source of information about the world. They use the news and entertainment to build their picture of the world, and consequently their stereotypes. Some people give more importance to personal experience, but that's (statistically, if I remember correctly) a minority and even that is problematic for a picture of a whole group. How many people do you know rely on statistics to build a picture of the human race, not to mention examine those statistics to make sure the data is not effected by the stereotypes and prejudice itself (such as poverty in blacks). The media is one of the worst sources for building a picture of the world, yet is the most common source used.

The media and passed on stereotypes (such as derogatory names and words) keep stereotypes and prejudice alive. If someone from a group such as gypsies or gays repeatedly hears words with a derogatory origin or with what they think is a derogatory origin, regardless of the meaning of the speaker, they are just as susceptible to unconscious associations as non-members. Whether they "object" to it is irrelevant. 1) they may object or feel offended yet may not say anything because of not wanting to sound too politically correct and 2) they will probably consciously or unconsciously absorb the negative association because the word and association exists (regardless of immediate intention), and this usually results in stereotype creation or support. Stereotypes in any form can grow and spread and evolve into prejudice. Self-stereotypes are the most harmful, because the person may come to believe negative "facts" about themselves and even act them out.

Although everyone has a right to slurs and unintentional slurs and to be offended and to make associations about entire groups of people from TV or from the fact that those associations exists, keep this in mind. If you still don't care, or think what I said is a load of BS, by all means continue. I admit even stereotypes and prejudice and slurs and slang add diversity to this world, and that is something we won't get enough of. But just keep this in mind the next time you see the news, or believe "supported" generalizations, or say "thats so (gay/ gypped/ Blood Type A negative/ you name it)".

Wow! You read all this! Give yourself a cookie, and email me to tell me what you think. And if you're really interested go out and find all the media statistics yourself. I researched this for a college English final, so I don't have any sources off the top of my head, but one good site is http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/issues/index.cfm that gives statistics and info.

Posted by: Oleg on March 16, 2004 6:25 PM

Can I just ask-whats with the emphasis on Downs Syndrome in connection with 'retarded'?

Political correctness has gone way over the top, in my opinion-y'all should just calm down over there.

Posted by: Charlotte on March 28, 2004 9:11 AM