National Geographic Society

  • Connect:

"American Gypsies" Glossary

A (By No Means Exhaustive) List of Romani Terms and Definitions

Photo: Family friends

Photo: Family friends (View larger version)

Photograph by National Geographic Channels/ Shadow Stick Productions

Published

The Romani people, more commonly known as Gypsies, have a long and rich history—they originated about 1,000 years ago in Northern India, and now live across the globe. As they migrated out of India, their culture diversified—today there are a variety of groups including the Romanichals in the UK, the Sinti in Germany and France, and Calé in Spain.

Although these groups may speak different dialects, language remains an important element of common Romani identity. In one saying: "Amari čhib s’amari zor"—"Our language is our strength."

Since the Romani language has its roots in India, it is derived from Sanskrit, but words picked up from Greek and Slavic, for example, reflect the group's historical migration through Europe after leaving Northern India.

There are over sixty dialects, but these can be categorized into four main dialect groupings: Vlax (or Danubian), Southern (or Balkan), Central, and Northern. The words in this glossary represent words from across these different dialects.

IDENTITY & OUTSIDERS

Rom noun, adj m (pl Roma) a member of the Romani people, commonly known as Gypsies*; husband; man; married Romani male

Romani noun, adj the population group commonly known as Gypsies; the spoken language of the Romani people

Romanipen or Romaniya noun Romani tradition and law; the essence of Romani culture ; the set of behaviors that constitutes living properly, and involves maintaining spiritual balance.

Romanes or romani čhib noun the Romani language

gajo noun m (also gadjo or gadžo) non-Romani person; outsider  (f gaji; m pl gaje; f pl gaja)

gajekane adj non-Romani

FAMILY & MARRIAGE

dad noun m (also dat) father

daj noun f (also dej) mother

čhavo noun m (also shavo or shavoro or shabaro) boy; son; child; unmarried Romani male  (pl čhave)

čhaj noun f girl, daughter; unmarried Romani female

romni noun f woman; wife; married Romani female

mami noun f grandmother

bori noun f bride; daughter-in-law

phral noun m brother

phen noun f sister

Dati or Tati noun m nickname for father; "Dad"

Bapo noun m nickname for grandfather; "Grandpa"

Bre or Breh noun m nickname for brother; “Bro”

HIERARCHY & COURT SYSTEM

kris noun a court or tribunal, made up of community elders, where disputes within the Romani community are settled according to local Rom law

glaba noun a fine, paid sometimes as the result of a decision made by the elders in a kris.

divano noun (also diwano) an informal meeting to settle a dispute, preferred to a kris

vitsa noun Romani clan; formed of numerous extended families

kumpania noun (also kumpaniya) a group of Rom living in one territorial area, who claim exclusive rights to work there

pakiv noun (also patjiv) respect, esteem, honor; give a feast

Rom baro noun m literally “big man”; leader of a vitsi

SPIRITUALITY & PURITY

prikaza noun bad luck; retribution for upsetting spiritual balance that in turn brings bad luck

Mamioro noun a spirit believed to bring serious illnesses; literally “little grandmother”

marime adj impure, dirty, unclean, polluted; rejected; outcast

kintala noun spiritual balance; harmony

bibaxt noun misfortune; bad luck

mulo noun dead person; deceased; ghost, spirit; (pl mule) ancestors, guardian spirits

lashav noun (also ladzav or ladz) shame, embarrassment, disgrace

*NOTE: although commonly used, the term "Gypsy" is often considered offensive and inaccurate, as Romani are not of Egyptian origin.

2 comments
Evelyn Martin
Evelyn Martin

my mum just told me we are a descentant of romany but which I am not sure I really am interested to find out if from England or America always had an afinitiy with gypsy people.i now know it is in the blood pretty kool I think

Dawn Huber
Dawn Huber

we have just got this programe over in the United Kingdom and we've just ended the first season and I do hope there is more, this is one of the best things in reality TV for me at the moment, no matter how much they fight or cuss they are always there for each other at the end of the line, the bottom line is they stick together, there is so much real love in this family and i love their traditions and there is alot e could learn from these people and Tina's many blessings/rituals...loved it...loved it...loved it...did i say I loved it...need to get Bobby a woman now though...good luck to this family in all they do :)