ABC’s ‘The Talk’ host Whoopi Goldberg issued an apology last week for her use of the word ‘gypped,’ which some don’t realize is a slur.
The words gyp and gypped are considered racial slurs these days, but there are many who aren’t aware of that. Even fewer, it seems, know exactly who the target of the slur seems to be.
Whoopi Goldberg, one of the hosts of ABC’s The View, issued an apology last week for her use of the word. The Guardian reported that she used the slur while discussing former President Donald Trump. She said his supporters are “people who still believe that he got gypped somehow in the election.”
“You know, when you’re a certain age, you use the words that you know from when you were a kid or you remember saying, and that’s what I did today, and I shouldn’t have,” she said. “And I should’ve said ‘cheated’, but I used another word, and I’m really, really sorry.”
One commenter said she had “learned something new” after hearing of Goldberg’s apology.
‘Gyp’ represents racial slur
I suspect many people learned something new. I doubt, however, that it would surprise most that gyp comes from the word gypsy. That’s where the slur begins to enter the picture.
The word gyp, which means to cheat or swindle someone, entered our language in the mid-19th century. One of its earliest uses involved horse dealers who might employ tricks like painting the animal’s gray hairs brown, puffing the gums, to hide its age from an unsuspecting buyer.
Gyp, which some might spell as gip, was a shortening of the word gypsy.
The Associated Press Stylebook — and I’m sure others — states you should not use the word gyp in any sense. It further advises you shouldn’t use the word gypsy, either.
It even gives the example of an insect that has traditionally been called the Gypsy Moth. If a journalist writes a story about that particular insect, it’s fine to use the term the first time you refer to it, but then explain that it is now known as the Spongy Moth. The Entomological Society of America approved the name change in 2022, it adds. I suspect they know more about spongy moths than I would ever care to know.
But who do gypsies refer to?
When I think of gypsies, the mental image that comes to mind are the migrants who operate out of old-fashioned wagons and might sell cheap merchandise, particularly “rare” jewelry and offer readings from a crystal ball. That might be the kind of image many people hold. But what nationality of those people are we slurring when we use the word?
If I had to guess, I would place the area of nationality somewhere in Europe, perhaps around the region around Hungary. Many depictions seem to suggest a connection to that area of the continent.
It turns out, however, the slur seems to target the Romani people. Well, Romania is the neighbor of Hungary, so that might add up.
Except it doesn’t. The Romani people aren’t Romanians.
In fact, the origin of gypsy dates back to the 1600s and came as a shortening of Egyptian. But they aren’t from Egypt, either.
The Romani people originated in northern India. In modern times, they migrated worldwide, mostly into Europe. (So Europe was in there somewhere, but not originally.)
The slur today affects a broad swath of people, but it’s important to know all of its implications as we try to remember to avoid the word going forward.