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Names of the Romani people
Distribution of the Romani people in Europe based on self-designation.
The Romani people are also known by a variety of other names; in English as gypsies or gipsies (seen by some as a slur, as discussed below) and Roma, in Greek as γύφτοι (gíftoi) or τσιγγάνοι (tsingánoi), in Central and Eastern Europe as Tsingani (and variants), in France as gitans besides the dated bohémiens, manouches, in Italy as zingari and gitani, in Spain as gitanos, and in Portugal as ciganos.
In the English language (according to OED), Rom is a noun (with the plural Romá or Roms) and an adjective, while Romany is also a noun (with the plural Romanies) and an adjective. Both Rom and Romany have been in use in English since the 19th century as an alternative for Gypsy. Romany is also spelled Romani, or Rommany.
Sometimes, rom and romani are spelled with a double r, i.e., rrom and rromani, particularly in Romania in order to distinguish from the Romanian endonym (români). This is well established in Romani itself, since it represents a phoneme (/ʀ/ also written as ř and rh) which in some Romani dialects has remained different from the one written with a single r.
Roma is a term primarily used in political contexts to refer to the Romani people as a whole. Still, some subgroups of Romani do not self-identify as Roma, therefore some scholars avoid using the term Roma as not all Romani subgroups accept the term.
Because all Romanies use the word Romani as an adjective, the term began to be used as a noun for the entire ethnic group.
Today, the term Romani is used by some organizations — including the United Nations and the US Library of Congress. However, the Council of Europe and other organizations use the term Roma to refer to Romani people around the world, and recommended that Romani be restricted to the language and culture: Romani language, Romani culture.
The English term gipsy or gypsy is a common word used to indicate Romani people, Tinkers and Travellers, and use of the word gipsy in modern-day English is so pervasive (and is a legal term under English law—see below) that some Romani organizations use it in their own organizational names. However, according to some academics who study the Romani people, and a few Romani themselves, the word has been tainted by its use as a racial slur and a pejorative connoting illegality and irregularity, and some modern dictionaries either recommend avoiding use of the word gypsy entirely or give it a negative or warning label.
This exonym is sometimes written with a capital letter, to show that it designates an ethnic group. The Spanish term gitano, the French term gitan and the Basque term ijito have the same origin.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, the name was written in various ways: Egipcian, Egypcian, 'gypcian. The word gipsy/gypsy comes from the spellings which had lost the initial capital E, and that is one reason that it is often spelled with the initial g in lowercase. As time elapsed, the notion of 'the gipsy/gypsy' altered to include other associated stereotypes such as nomadism and exoticism. John Matthews in The World Atlas of Divination refer to gypsies as "Wise Women."
Colloquially, gipsy/gypsy is used refer to any person perceived by the speaker as fitting the gypsy stereotypes.
Gipsies of Romany origins have been a recognised ethnic group for the purposes of Race Relations Act 1976 since Commission for Racial Equality v Dutton 1989 and Irish Travellers in England and Wales since O'Leary v Allied Domecq 2000 (having already gained recognition in Northern Ireland in 1997).
Because many Romanies living in France had come via Bohemia, they were referred to as Bohémiens. This term would later be adapted by the French to refer to a particular artistic and impoverished lifestyle of an individual, known as Bohemianism.
^p. 52 in Elena Marushiakova and Vesselin Popov's "Historical and ethnographic background; Gypsies, Roma, Sinti" in Will Guy [ed.] Between Past and Future: The Roma of Central and Eastern Europe [with a Foreword by Dr. Ian Hancock], 2001, UK: University of Hertfordshire Press
^From the Oxford English Dictionary (second edition, 1989; online version December 2011) Etymology section for the word gipsy:
From the quotations collected for the dictionary, the prevalent spelling of late years appears to have been gipsy. The plural gypsies is not uncommon, but the corresponding form in the singular seems to have been generally avoided, probably because of the awkward appearance of the repetition of y.