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English Gipsies and Their Language, by Charles G. Leland, [1874], at


Boro Duvel, or “Great God,” an Old Gipsy term for Water—Bishnoo or Vishnu, the Rain-God—The Rain, called God’s Blood by Gipsies—The Snow, “Angel’s Feathers.”—Mahadeva—Buddha—The Simurgh—The Pintni or Mermaid—The Nag or Blind-Worm—Nagari and Niggering—The Nile—Nats and Nautches, Naubat and Nobbet—A Puncher—Pitch, Piller and Pivlibeebee—Quod—Kishmet or Destiny—The Koran in England—“Sass”—Sherengro—Sarserin—Shali or Rice—The Shaster in England—The Evil Eye—Sikhs—Stan, Hindostan, Iranistan—The true origin of Slang—Tat, the Essence of Being—Bahar and Bar—The Origin of the Words Rom and Romni.—Dom and Domni—The Hindi tem—Gipsy and Hindustani points of the Compass—Salaam and Shulam—Sarisham!—The Cups—Women’s treading on objects—Horseflesh—English and Foreign Gipsies—Bohemian and Rommany.

A learned Sclavonian—Michael von Kogalnitschan—has said of Rommany, that he found it interesting to be able to study a Hindu dialect in the heart of Europe. He is quite right; but as mythology far surpasses any philology in interest, as regards its relations to poetry, how much more wonderful is it to find—to-day in England—traces of the tremendous avatars, whose souls were gods, long ago in India. And though these traces be faint, it is still apparent enough that they really exist.

One day an old Gipsy, who is said to be more than usually “deep” in Rommany, and to have had unusual opportunity for acquiring such knowledge from Gipsies older and deeper than himself, sent word to me, to know if “the rye” was aware that Boro Duvel, or the Great God, was an old Rommany expression for water? I thought that this was a singular message to come from a tent at Battersea, and asked my special Gipsy factotum, why God should be called water, or water, God? And he replied in the following words:

“Panni is the Boro Duvel, and it is Bishnoo or Vishnoo, because it pells alay from the Boro Duvel. ‘Vishnu is the Boro Duvel then?’—Āvali. There can’t be no stretch adoi—can there, rya? Duvel is Duvel all the world over—but by the right formation, Vishnoo is the Duvel’s ratt. I’ve shūned adovo būt dusta cheiruses. An’ the snow is poris, that jāls from the angels’ winguses. And what I penned, that Bishnoo is the Duvel’s ratt, is pūro Rommanis, and jinned by saw our foki.”  110

Now in India, Vishnu and Indra are the gods of the rain.

The learned, who insist that as there ought to be, so there must be, but a single source of derivation for every word, ignoring the fact that a dozen causes may aid in its formation, will at once declare that, as Bishnoo or Vishnoo is derived from the old Gipsy Brishni or Brschindo, and this from the Hindu Barish, and the Sanscrit Varish or Prish, there can be “no rational ground” for connecting the English Gipsy word with the Hindu god. But who can tell what secret undercurrents of dim tradition and vague association may have come down to the present day from the olden time. That rain should be often called God’s blood, and water bearing the name of Vishnu be termed God, and that this should be regarded as a specially curious bit of Gipsy lore, is at any rate remarkable enough.

As for the Gipsies in question ever having heard of Vishnu and other gods (as a friend suggests to me), save in this dim tradition, I can only say, that I doubt whether either of them ever heard even of the apostles; and I satisfied myself that the one who brought the secret had never heard of Joseph, was pitiably ignorant of Potiphar’s wife, and only knew of “Mozhus” or Moses, that he “once heerd he was on the bulrushes.”

Mahadeva, or Mahadev, exists apparently in the mouth of every English Gipsy in the phrase “Maduveleste!” or, God bless you. This word Maduvel is often changed to Mi—duvel, and is generally supposed to mean “My God;” but I was once assured, that the old and correct form was Ma, meaning great, and that it only meant great in connection with Duvel.

A curious illustration of a lost word returning by chance to its original source was given one day, when I asked a Gipsy if he knew such a word as Būddha? He promptly replied, “Yes; that a booderi or boodha mush was an old man;” and pointing to a Chinese image of Buddha, said: “That is a Boohda.” He meant nothing more than that it represented an aged person, but the coincidence was at least remarkable. Budha in Hindustani really signifies an old man.

The same Gipsy, observing on the chimney-piece a quaint image of a Chinese griffin—a hideous little goblin with wings—informed me that the Gipsy name for it was a Seemór or Seemorus, and further declared that the same word meant a dolphin. “But a dolphin has no wings,” I remarked. “Oh, hasn’t it?” rejoined the Gipsy; “its fins are its wings, if it hadn’t wings it could not be a Seemór.” I think I recognise in this Seemór, the Simurgh or Griffin of Persian fable.  112 I could learn nothing more than this, that the Gipsy had always regarded a dolphin as resembling a large-headed winged monster, which he called a Seemór.

NAG is a snake in Hindustani. The English Gipsies still retain this primæval word, but apply it only to the blind-worm. It is, however, remarkable that the Nag, or blind-worm, is, in the opinion of the Rommany, the most mysterious of creatures. I have been told that “when a nag mullers it’s hardus as a kosh, and you can pogger it like a swägler’s toov,” “When a blind-worm dies it is as hard as a stick, and you can break it like a pipe-stem.” They also believe that the Nag is gifted, so far as his will goes, with incredible malignity, and say of him—

“If he could dick sim’s he can shoon,
He wouldn’t mukk mush or graī jāl ān the drum.”

“If he could see as well as he can hear, he would not allow man or horse to go on the road.”

The Hindi alphabet Deva Nagari, “the writing of the gods,” is commonly called Nagari. A common English Gipsy word for writing is “niggering.” “He niggered sār he could pooker adrée a chinamangree.” The resemblance between nagari and nigger may, it is true, be merely accidental, but the reader, who will ascertain by examination of the vocabulary the proportion of Rommany words unquestionably Indian, will admit that the terms have probably a common origin.

From Sanskrit to English Gipsy may be regarded as a descent “from the Nile to a street-gutter,” but it is amusing at least to find a passable parallel for this simile. Nill in Gipsy is a rivulet, a river, or a gutter. Nala is in Hindustani a brook; nali, a kennel: and it has been conjectured that the Indian word indicates that of the great river of Egypt.

All of my readers have heard of the Nautch girls, the so-called bayadères or dancing-girls of India; but very few, I suppose, are aware that their generic name is remotely preserved in several English Gipsy words. Nāchna in Hindustani means to dance, while the Nāts, who are a kind of Gipsies, are generally jugglers, dancers, and musicians. A natua is one of these Nāts, and in English Gipsy nautering means going about with music. Other attractions may be added, but, as I have heard a Gipsy say, “it always takes music to go a-nauterin’ or nobbin’.”

Naubat in the language of the Hindu Nāts signifies “time, turn, and instruments of music sounding at the gate of a great man, at certain intervals.” “Nobbet,” which is a Gipsy word well known to all itinerant negro minstrels, means to go about with music to get money. “To nobbet round the tem, bosherin’.” It also implies time or turn, as I inferred from what I was told on inquiry. “You can shoon dovo at the wellgooras when yeck rākkers the waver, You jāl and nobbet.” “You can hear that at the fairs when one says to the other, You go and nobbet,” meaning, “It is your turn to play now.”

Nāchna, to dance (Hindustani), appears to be reflected in the English Gipsy “nitchering,” moving restlessly, fidgeting and dancing about. Nobbeting, I was told, “is nauterin’—it’s all one, rya!”

Paejama in India means very loose trousers; and it is worth noting that Gipsies call loose leggings, trousers, or “overalls,” peajamangris. This may be Anglo-Indian derived from the Gorgios. Whether “pea-jacket” belongs in part to this family, I will not attempt to decide.

Living constantly among the vulgar and uneducated, it is not to be wondered at that the English Gipsies should have often given a vulgar English and slangy term to many words originally Oriental. I have found that, without exception, there is a disposition among most people to promptly declare that all these words were taken, “of course,” from English slang. Thus, when I heard a Gipsy speak of his fist as a “puncher,” I naturally concluded that he did so because he regarded its natural use to be to “punch” heads with. But on asking him why he gave it that name, he promptly replied, “Because it takes pānge (five) fingers to make a fist.” And since panja means in Hindustani a hand with the five fingers extended, it is no violent assumption to conclude that even puncher may owe quite as much to Hindustani as to English, though I cheerfully admit that it would perhaps never have existed had it not been for English associations. Thus a Gipsy calls a pedlar a packer or pack-mush. Now, how much of this word is due to the English word pack or packer, and how much to paikár, meaning in Hindustani a pedlar? I believe that there has been as much of the one as of the other, and that this doubly-formative influence, or influence of continuation, should be seriously considered as regards all Rommany words which resemble in sound others of the same meaning, either in Hindustani or in English. It should also be observed that the Gipsy, while he is to the last degree inaccurate and a blunderer as regards English words (a fact pointed out long ago by the Rev. Mr Crabb), has, however, retained with great persistence hundreds of Hindu terms. Not being very familiar with peasant English, I have generally found Gipsies more intelligible in Rommany than in the language of their “stepfather-land,” and have often asked my principal informant to tell me in Gipsy what I could not comprehend in “Anglo-Saxon.”

“To pitch together” does not in English mean to stick together, although pitch sticks, but it does in Gipsy; and in Hindustani, pichchi means sticking or adhering. I find in all cases of such resemblance that the Gipsy word has invariably a closer affinity as regards meaning to the Hindu than to the English, and that its tendencies are always rather Oriental than Anglo-Saxon. As an illustration, I may point out piller (English Gipsy) to attack, having an affinity in pilna (Hindustani), with the same meaning. Many readers will at once revert to pill, pillér, and pillage—all simply implying attack, but really meaning to rob, or robbery. But piller in English Gipsy also means, as in Hindustani, to assault indecently; and this is almost conclusive as to its Eastern origin.

It is remarkable that the Gipsies in England, or all the world over, have, like the Hindus, a distinctly descriptive expression for every degree of relationship. Thus a pivli beebee in English Gipsy, or pupheri bahim in Hindustani, is a father’s sister’s daughter. This in English, as in French or German, is simply a cousin.

Quod, imprisonment, is an old English cant and Gipsy word which Mr Hotten attempts to derive from a college quadrangle; but when we find that the Hindu quaid also means confinement, the probability is that it is to it we owe this singular term.

There are many words in which it is evident that the Hindu Gipsy meaning has been shifted from a cognate subject. Thus putti, the hub of a wheel in Gipsy, means the felly of a wheel in Hindustani. Kaizy, to rub a horse down, or scrape him, in the original tongue signifies “to tie up a horse’s head by passing the bridle to his tail,” to prevent his kicking while being rubbed or ’scraped. Quasur, or kasur, is in Hindustani flame: in English Gipsy kessur signifies smoke; but I have heard a Gipsy more than once apply the same term to flame and smoke, just as miraben stands for both life and death.

Very Oriental is the word kismet, or destiny, as most of my readers are probably aware. It is also English Gipsy, and was explained to me as follows: “A man’s kismut is what he’s bound to kair—it’s the kismut of his see. Some men’s kismut is better’n wavers, ’cos they’ve got more better chiv. Some men’s kismut’s to bikin grais, and some to bikin kānis; but saw foki has their kismut, an’ they can’t pen chichi elsus.” In English, “A man’s destiny is what he is bound to do—it is the fate of his soul (life). Some men’s destiny is better than others, because they have more command of language. Some are fated to sell horses, and others to sell hens; but all people have their mission, and can do nothing else.”

Qurán in the East means the Koran, and qurán uthara to take an oath. In English Gipsy kurran, or kurraben, is also an oath, and it seems strange that such a word from such a source should exist in England. It is, however, more interesting as indicating that the Gipsies did not leave India until familiarised with Mohammedan rule. “He kaired his kurran pré the Duvel’s Bavol that he would jāl ’vree the tem for a besh.” “He swore his oath upon God’s Breath (the Bible) that he would leave the country for a year.” Upon inquiring of the Gipsy who uttered this phrase why he called the Bible “God’s Breath,” he replied naïvely, “It’s sim to the Duvel’s jivaben, just the same as His breathus.” “It is like God’s life, just the same as His breath.”

It is to be observed that nearly all the words which Gipsies claim as Gipsy, notwithstanding their resemblance to English, are to be found in Hindustani. Thus rutter, to copulate, certainly resembles the English rut, but it is quite as much allied to rutana (Hindustani), meaning the same thing. “Sass,” or sauce, meaning in Gipsy, bold, forward impudence, is identical with the same English word, but it agrees very well with the Hindu sáhas, bold, and was perhaps born of the latter term, although it has been brought up by the former.

Dr A. F. Pott remarks of the German Gipsy word schetra, or violin, that he could nowhere find in Rommany a similar instrument with an Indian name. Surrhingee, or sarunghee, is the common Hindu word for a violin; and the English Gipsies, on being asked if they knew it, promptly replied that it was “an old word for the neck or head of a fiddle.” It is true they also called it sarengro, surhingro, and shorengro, the latter word indicating that it might have been derived from sherro-engro—i.e., “head-thing.” But after making proper allowance for the Gipsy tendency, or rather passion, for perverting words towards possible derivations, it seems very probable that the term is purely Hindu.

Zuhru, or Zohru, means in the East Venus, or the morning star; and it is pleasant to find a reflection of the rosy goddess in the Gipsy soor, signifying “early in the morning.” I have been told that there is a Rommany word much resembling soor, meaning the early star, but my informant could not give me its exact sound. Dood of the sala is the common name for Venus. Sunrise is indicated by the eccentric term of “kam-left the panni” or sun-left the water. “It wells from the waver tem you jin,” said my informant, in explanation. “The sun comes from a foreign country, and first leaves that land, and then leaves the sea, before it gets here.”

When a Gipsy is prowling for hens, or any other little waifs, and wishes to leave a broken trail, so that his tracks may not be identified, he will walk with the feet interlocked—one being placed outside the other—making what in America is very naturally termed a snake-trail. This he calls sarserin, and in Hindu sarasáná means to creep along like a snake.

Supposing that the Hindu word for rice, sháli, could hardly have been lost, I asked a Gipsy if he knew it, and he at once replied, “Shali giv is small grain-corn, werry little grainuses indeed.”

Shalita in Hindustani is a canvas sack in which a tent is carried. The English Gipsy has confused this word with shelter, and yet calls a small or “shelter” tent a shelter gunno, or bag. “For we rolls up the big tent in the shelter tent, to carry it.” A tent cloth or canvas is in Gipsy a shummy, evidently derived from the Hindu shumiyana, a canopy or awning.

It is a very curious fact that the English Gipsies call the Scripture or Bible the Shaster, and I record this with the more pleasure, since it fully establishes Mr Borrow as the first discoverer of the word in Rommany, and vindicates him from the suspicion with which his assertion was received by Dr Pott. On this subject the latter speaks as follows:—

“Eschastra de Moyses, l. ii. 22; ο νομος, M.; Sanskrit, çâstra; Hind., shāstr, m. Hindu religious books, Hindu law, Scripture, institutes of science (Shakespeare). In proportion to the importance of the real existence of this word among the Gipsies must be the suspicion with which we regard it, when it depends, as in this instance, only on Borrow’s assertion, who, in case of need, to supply a non-existing word, may have easily taken one from the Sanskrit.”—Die Zigeuner, vol. ii. p. 224.

The word shaster was given to me very distinctly by a Gipsy, who further volunteered the information, that it not only meant the Scriptures, but also any written book whatever, and somewhat marred the dignity of the sublime association of the Bible and Shaster, by adding that “any feller’s bettin’-book on the race-ground was a shasterni lil, ’cos it’s written.”

I have never heard of the evil eye among the lower orders of English, but among Gipsies a belief in it is as common as among Hindus, and both indicate it by the same word, seer or sihr. In India sihr, it is true, is applied to enchantment or magic in general, but in this case the whole may very well stand for a part. I may add that my own communications on the subject of the jettatura, and the proper means of averting it by means of crab’s claws, horns, and the usual sign of the fore and little finger, were received by a Gipsy auditor with great faith and interest.

To show, teach, or learn, is expressed in Gipsy by the word sikker, sig, or seek. The reader may not be aware that the Sikhs of India derive their name from the same root, as appears from the following extract from Dr Paspati’s études: “Sikava, v. prim. 1 cl. 1 conj. part, siklo’, montrer, apprendre. Sanskrit, s’iks’, to learn, to acquire science; siksáka, adj., a learner, a teacher. Hindustani, seek’hna, v.a., to learn, to acquire; seek’h, s.f., admonition.” I next inquired why they were called Seeks, and they told me it was a word borrowed from one of the commandments of their founder, which signifies ‘learn thou,’ and that it was adopted to distinguish the sect soon after he disappeared. The word, as is well known, has the same import in the Hindoovee” (“Asiatic Researches,” vol. i. p. 293, and vol. ii. p. 200). This was a noble word to give a name to a body of followers supposed to be devoted to knowledge and truth.

The English Gipsy calls a mermaid a pintni; in Hindu it is bint ool buhr, a maid of the sea. Bero in Gipsy is the sea or a ship, but the Rommany had reduced the term to the original bint, by which a girl is known all over the East.

“Ya bint’ Eeskenderéyeh.”

Stan is a word confounded by Gipsies with both stand, a place at the races or a fair, and tan, a stopping-place, from which it was probably derived. But it agrees in sound and meaning with the Eastern stan, “a place, station,” and by application “country,” so familiar to the reader in Hindustan, Iranistan, Beloochistan, and many other names. It is curious to find in the Gipsy tan not only the root-word of a tent, but also the “Alabama,” or “here we rest,” applied by the world’s early travellers to so many places in the Morning Land.

Slang does not mean, as Mr Hotten asserts, the secret language of the Gipsies, but is applied by them to acting; to speaking theatrical language, as in a play; to being an acrobat, or taking part in a show. It is a very old Gipsy word, and indicates plainly enough the origin of the cant word “slang.” Using other men’s words, and adopting a conventional language, strikes a Gipsy as artificial; and many men not Gipsies express this feeling by speaking of conventional stage language as “theatrical slang.” Its antiquity and origin appear in the Hindu swángí, an actor; swang, mockery, disguise, sham; and swang lena, to imitate. As regards the sound of the words, most English Gipsies would call swang “slang” as faithfully as a Cockney would exchange hat with ’at.

Deepest among deep words in India is tat, an element, a principle, the essence of being; but it is almost amusing to hear an English Gipsy say “that’s the tátto (or tāt) of it,” meaning thereby “the thing itself,” the whole of it. And thus the ultimate point of Brahma, and the infinite depth of all transcendental philosophy, may reappear in a cheap, portable, and convenient form, as a declaration that the real meaning of some mysterious transaction was that it amounted to a sixpenny swindle at thimble-rig; for to such base uses have the Shaster and the Vedas come in England.

It is, however, pleasant to find the Persian bahar, a garden, recalling Bahar Danush, the garden of knowledge (Hindustani, bāgh), reappearing in the English Gipsy bar. “She pirryed adrée the bar lellin ruzhers.” “She walked in the garden plucking flowers.” And it is also like old times and the Arabian Nights at home, to know that bazaar is a Gipsy word, though it be now quite obsolete, and signifies no longer a public street for shops, but an open field.

But of all words which identify the Gipsies with the East, and which prove their Hindu origin, those by which they call themselves Rom and Romni are most conclusive. In India the Dom caste is one of the lowest, whose business it is for the men to remove carcasses, while the Domni, or female Dom, sings at weddings. Everything known of the Dom identifies them with Gipsies. As for the sound of the word, any one need only ask the first Gipsy whom he meets to pronounce the Hindu d or the word Dom, and he will find it at once converted into l or r. There are, it is true, other castes and classes in India, such as Nāts, the roving Banjaree, Thugs, &c., all of which have left unmistakable traces on the Gipsies, from which I conclude that at some time when these pariahs became too numerous and dangerous there was a general expulsion of them from India.  124

I would call particular attention to my suggestion that the Corn of India is the true parent of the Rom, because all that is known of the former caste indicates an affinity between them. The Dom pariahs of India who carry out or touch dead bodies, also eat the bodies of animals that have died a natural death, as do the Gipsies of England. The occupation of the Domni and Romni, dancing and making music at festivals, are strikingly allied. I was reminded of this at the last opera which I witnessed at Covent Garden, on seeing stage Gipsies introduced as part of the fête in “La Traviata.”

A curious indication of the Indian origin of the Gipsies may be found in the fact that they speak of every foreign country beyond sea as the Hindi tem, Hindi being in Hindustani their own word for Indian. Nothing was more natural than that the Rommany on first coming to England should speak of far-away regions as being the same as the land they had left, and among such ignorant people the second generation could hardly fail to extend the term and make it generic. At present an Irishman is a Hindi tem mush, or Hindu; and it is rather curious, by the way, that a few years ago in America everything that was anti-Irish or native American received the same appellation, in allusion to the exclusive system of castes.

Although the Gipsies have sadly confounded the Hindu terms for the “cardinal points,” no one can deny that their own are of Indian origin. Uttar is north in Hindustani, and Utar is west in Rommany. As it was explained to me, I was told that “Utar means west and wet too, because the west wind is wet.” Shimal is also north in Hindu; and on asking a Gipsy what it meant, he promptly replied, “It’s where the snow comes from.” Poorub is the east in Hindustani; in Gipsy it is changed to porus, and means the west.

This confusion of terms is incidental to every rude race, and it must be constantly borne in mind that it is very common in Gipsy. Night suggests day, or black white, to the most cultivated mind; but the Gipsy confuses the name, and calls yesterday and to-morrow, or light and shadow, by the same word. More than this, he is prone to confuse almost all opposites on all occasions, and wonders that you do not promptly accept and understand what his own people comprehend. This is not the case among the Indians of North America, because oratory, involving the accurate use of words, is among them the one great art; nor are the negroes, despite their heedless ignorance, so deficient, since they are at least very fond of elegant expressions and forcible preaching. I am positive and confident that it would be ten times easier to learn a language from the wildest Indian on the North American continent than from any real English Gipsy, although the latter may be inclined with all his heart and soul to teach, even to the extent of passing his leisure days in “skirmishing” about among the tents picking up old Rommany words. Now the Gipsy has passed his entire life in the busiest scenes of civilisation, and is familiar with all its refined rascalities; yet notwithstanding this, I have found by experience that the most untutored Kaw or Chippewa, as ignorant of English as I was ignorant of his language, and with no means of intelligence between us save signs, was a genius as regards ability to teach language when compared to most Gipsies.

Everybody has heard of the Oriental salaam! In English Gipsy shulam means a greeting. “Shulam to your kokero!” is another form of sarishan! the common form of salutation. The Hindu sar i sham signifies “early in the evening,” from which I infer that the Dom or Rom was a nocturnal character like the Night-Cavalier of Quevedo, and who sang when night fell, “Arouse ye, then, my merry men!” or who said “Good-evening!” just as we say (or used to say) “Good-day!”  127

A very curious point of affinity between the Gipsies and Hindus may be found in a custom which was described to me by a Rom in the following words:—

“When a mush mullers, an’ the juvas adrée his ker can’t kair habben because they feel so naflo ’bout the rom being gone, or the chavï or juvalo mush, or whoever it may be, then their friends for trin divvuses kairs their habben an’ bitchers it a lende. An’ that’s tacho Rommanis, an’ they wouldn’t be dessen Rommany chuls that wouldn’t kair dovo for mushis in sig an’ tukli.”

“When a man dies, and the women in his house cannot prepare food (literally, make food) as they feel so badly because the man is gone (or the girl, or young man, or whoever it may be), then their friends for three days prepare their food and send it to them. And that is real Rommany (custom), and they would not be decent Rommany fellows who would not do that for people in sorrow and distress.”

Precisely the same custom prevails in India, where it is characterised by a phrase strikingly identical with the English Gipsy term for it. In England it is to kair habben, in Hindustani (Brice, Hin. Dict.) “karwá khana is the food that is sent for three days from relations to a family in which one of the members has died.” The Hindu karwáná, to make or to cause to do, and kara, to do, are the origin of the English Gipsy kair (to make or cook), while from khana, or ’hāna, to eat, comes haw and habben, or food.

The reader who is familiar with the religious observances of India is probably aware of the extraordinary regard in which the cup is held by many sects. In Germany, as Mr Liebich declares, drinking-cups are kept by the Gipsies with superstitious regard, the utmost care being taken that they never fall to the ground. “Should this happen, the cup is never used again. By touching the ground it becomes sacred, and should no more be used. When a Gipsy cares for nothing else, he keeps his drinking-cup under every circumstance.” I have not been able to ascertain whether this species of regard for the cup ever existed in England, but I know of many who could not be induced to drink from a white cup or bowl, the reason alleged being the very frivolous and insufficient one, that it reminded them of a blood-basin. It is almost needless to say that this could never have been the origin of the antipathy. No such consideration deters English peasants from using white crockery drinking-vessels.

In Germany, among the Gipsies, if a woman has trodden on any object, or if the skirt of her dress has swept over or touched it, it is either destroyed, or if of value, is disposed of or never used again. I found on inquiry that the same custom still prevails among the old Gipsy families in England, and that if the object be a crockery plate or cup, it is at once broken. For this reason, even more than for convenience, real Gipsies are accustomed to hang every cooking utensil, and all that pertains to the table, high up in their waggons. It is almost needless to point out how closely these ideas agree with those of many Hindus. The Gipsy eats every and any thing except horseflesh. Among themselves, while talking Rommany, they will boast of having eaten mullo baulors, or pigs that have died a natural death, and hotchewitchi, or hedgehog, as did the belle of a Gipsy party to me at Walton-on-Thames in the summer of 1872. They can give no reason whatever for this inconsistent abstinence. But Mr Simson in his “History of the Gipsies” has adduced a mass of curious facts, indicating a special superstitious regard for the horse among the Rommany in Scotland, and identifying it with certain customs in India. It would be a curious matter of research could we learn whether the missionaries of the Middle Ages, who made abstinence from horse-flesh a point of salvation (when preaching in Germany and in Scandinavia), derived their superstition, in common with the Gipsies, from India.

There can be no doubt that in seeking for the Indian origin of many Gipsy words we are often bewildered, and that no field in philology presents such opportunity for pugnacious critics to either attack or defend the validity of the proofs alleged. The very word for “doubtful” or “ambiguous,” dubeni or dub’na, is of this description. Is it derived from the Hindu dhoobd’ha, which every Gipsy would pronounce doobna, or from the English dubious, which has been made to assume the Gipsy-Indian termination na? Of this word I was naïvely told, “If a juva’s bori (girl is big), that’s dub’ni; and if she’s shuvalo (swelled up), that’s dubni: for it may pen (say) she’s kaired a tikno (is enceinte), and it may pen she hasn’t.” But when we find that the English Gipsy also employs the word dukkeni for “doubtful,” and compare it with the Hindustani dhokna or dukna, the true derivation becomes apparent.

Had Dr Pott or Dr Paspati had recourse to the plan which I adopted of reading a copious Hindustani dictionary entirely through, word by word, to a patient Gipsy, noting down all which he recognised, and his renderings of them, it is very possible that these learned men would in Germany and Turkey have collected a mass of overwhelming proof as to the Indian origin of Rommany. At present the dictionary which I intend shall follow this work shows that, so far as the Rommany dialects have been published, that of England contains a far greater number of almost unchanged Hindu words than any other, a fact to which I would especially call the attention of all who are interested in this curious language. And what is more, I am certain that the supply is far from being exhausted, and that by patient research among old Gipsies, the Anglo-Rommany vocabulary might be increased to possibly five or six thousand words.

It is very possible that when they first came from the East to Europe the Gipsies had a very copious supply of words, for there were men among them of superior intelligence. But in Turkey, as in Germany, they have not been brought into such close contact with the Gorgios as in England: they have not preserved their familiarity with so many ideas, and consequently their vocabulary has diminished. Most of the Continental Gipsies are still wild, black wanderers, unfamiliar with many things for which the English Gipsy has at least a name, and to which he has continued to apply old Indian words. Every one familiar with the subject knows that the English Gipsies in America are far more intelligent than their German Rommany cousins. A few years ago a large party of the latter appeared at an English racecourse, where they excited much attention, but greatly disgusted the English Roms, not as rivals, but simply from their habits. “They couldn’t do a thing but beg,” said my informant. “They jinned (knew) nothing else: they were the dirtiest Gipsies I ever saw; and when the juvas suckled the children, they sikkered their burks (showed their breasts) as I never saw women do before foki.” Such people would not, as a rule, know so many words as those who looked down on them.

The conclusion which I have drawn from studying Anglo-Rommany, and different works on India, is that the Gipsies are the descendants of a vast number of Hindus, of the primitive tribes of Hindustan, who were expelled or emigrated from that country early in the fourteenth century. I believe they were chiefly of the primitive tribes, because evidence which I have given indicates that they were identical with the two castes of the Doms and Nāts—the latter being, in fact, at the present day, the real Gipsies of India. Other low castes and outcasts were probably included in the emigration, but I believe that future research will prove that they were all of the old stock. The first Pariahs of India may have consisted entirely of those who refused to embrace the religion of their conquerors.

It has been coolly asserted by a recent writer that Gipsies are not proved to be of Hindu origin because “a few” Hindu words are to be found in their language. What the proportion of such words really is may be ascertained from the dictionary which will follow this work. But throwing aside all the evidence afforded by language, traditions, manners, and customs, one irrefutable proof still remains in the physical resemblance between Gipsies all the world over and the natives of India. Even in Egypt, the country claimed by the Gipsies themselves as their remote great-grandfather-land, the native Gipsy is not Egyptian in his appearance but Hindu. The peculiar brilliancy of the eye and its expression in the Indian is common to the Gipsy, but not to the Egyptian or Arab; and every donkey-boy in Cairo knows the difference between the Rhagarin and the native as to personal appearance. I have seen both Hindus in Cairo and Gipsies, and the resemblance to each other is as marked as their difference from Egyptians.

A few years ago an article on the Rommany language appeared in the “Atlantic Magazine” (Boston, U.S., America), in which the writer declared that Gipsy has very little affinity with Hindustani, but a great deal with Bohemian or Chech—in fact, he maintained, if I remember right, that a Chech and a Rom could understand one another in either of their respective tongues. I once devoted my time for several months to unintermitted study of Chech, and consequently do not speak in entire ignorance when I declare that true Rommany contains scores of Hindu words to one of Bohemian.  133

Next: Chapter IX. Miscellanea