American Gypsies Glossary

Video highlights from American Gypsies

A (by no means exhaustive) list of Romani terms and definitions

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 chib 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.

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 chib 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

noun m (also dat) father
daj noun f (also dej) mother
chavo noun m (also shavo or shavoro or shabaro) boy; son; child; unmarried Romani male  (pl chave)
chaj 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”

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

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.

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