Cutting the word gyp from my vocabulary

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Manda mentioned the use of that word as bigoted just the other day, and then I used it (in front of her) yesterday! I had never thought about it's etymology before, but hadn't thought it was a word I used much. It is a short, useful word, but...

gyp 1 |jip| informal
verb ( gypped, gypping) [ trans. ]
cheat or swindle (someone) : that's salesmanship, you have to gyp people into buying stuff they don't like.
noun (also gip)
an act of cheating; a swindle.
ORIGIN late 19th cent.: of unknown origin.

... that "unknown origin" (from the Mac OS X dictionary also of unknown origin, I think it used to be branded as Random House) is pretty suspect. I am all for using terms with real, separate histories from hate words (for instance niggardly, a late middle English term for stingy, should not be taken as offensive). Also, if a phrase references an ethnic group but is not derogatory, that's cool too. For instance, if I'm supposed to be offended by someone calling Tradescantia albiflora and pendula (previously Zebrina pendula) plants by the common name Wandering Jew, I am blissfully unaware. (Like I said Dan, no need to apologize!) The same goes for Jew's Harp.

However, it doesn't take more than a few moment's thought to conclude that the origin of gyp is a slur against so-called gypsies, the Roma people.

With the absence of evidence to the contrary, we must realize that gyp as a verb to mean cheat was created by a fear of or prejudice against an identifiably different group. Avoiding its use is not a form of politically correct mind control; rather, the opposite is the case. Using a plainly negative word that is also (once that few moments of thought engages) associated with a given group trains and conditions us to have negative thoughts about that group. Given the tendency in human history for (frequently elite-engineered or encouraged) outbreaks of violence against (not to mention systematic oppression and exploitation of) groups of people we are taught to hate, language really matters.

The use of the word "gay" today all over the United States to mean various types of or just generically "bad" is similar, and something I do remember to speak out against.

I am not very receptive to the argument that words take on a separate meaning and rise above their origin. We have lots of words; we do not need to use words and phrases founded on smearing an entire group of people. Even the possibility of reinforcing – including subconsciously – hatred, fear, or anger directed at a population is too harmful to risk.

So in solidarity with my Romani sisters and brothers, who have tended to be persecuted and killed at the same times as Jews (Spanish Inquisition, Nazi Germany's genocidal campaigns to take the two biggest examples), I will think about what I say and drop the slur word I have been using unconsciously.

(Of course now using sisters and brothers implies a binary sex world that doesn't quite exist, but somehow "in solidarity with my siblings" isn't rolling off my tongue yet... baby steps...)