Six English words borrowed from the Romani language

The Gypsy, Roma and Traveler communities have been part of the regional populations of the UK for centuries. Roma communities are documented to have migrated to the UK in the early 15th century and evidence is found among a variety of official legal documents and official correspondence. As members of a larger community called the Gypsy Roma and Traveller, Roma have often faced hostility and inequality. It may come as a surprise then to learn that Romani, an unwritten language spoken by Roma communities, is used in everyday English. Romani is a language spoken by communities that live largely across Europe.

The Romani language and culture has been associated with central and northern India and inherits a significant part of its linguistic heritage from Sanskrit alongside other Indian languages ​​such as Hindi, Urdu and Gujarati . In this sense, it is considered the only European language derived from Indo Aryan.

Although there are large communities of Romani speakers across Europe and beyond, only a small number of people in the UK speak a fully grammatical version. In the UK, the majority of speakers use what is known as Anglo-Rom. It is a language specific to the Anglo-Roma of the United Kingdom and has a historical and linguistic link with the Roma culture. You may be surprised by some of the words that have been incorrectly labeled as colloquial or slang in English, which are actually words from Anglo-Rom.

Here are six of those words, including their meanings found in regional dialects in England with their historical links to Romani explained.

1. Wonga

It is a word considered slang according to many online dictionaries. However, it is actually an Anglo-Roma word used for “money”. The word derives from the European Roma word “vangar” and is a word used for “coal”, having a clear and historical value association. There are a number of variations used in Anglo-Roma communities for money and these range from ‘vonga’ to ‘luvna’.

Wonga derives from the Roma word “vangar”, which means money.
Makhh/Shutterstock

2. Chav

The word “chav” has been popularized as a slur in English to refer to someone whose behavior shows a lack of education or someone with lower class status. But the meaning of ‘chav’ or ‘chavvi’ in Anglo-Rom simply means ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ or even just ‘child’. “chavo” for boy, “chavi” for girl and “chave” for children.

3. Comfortable

It is another word that has been widely used and is often associated with the comedy character Del Boy in the popular British sitcom Only Fools and Horses. The word “coushty”, sometimes spelled “kushti” in Anglo-Rom is used as an affirmative adjective and means “good” or “fantastic”. The meaning of cushty comes from an older Romani word “kuč”, which means dear. Its use in English is most likely related to the mixing of dialects of the Anglo-Roma communities and the Cockney speakers of East London.

4. Changing

According to the Urban Dictionary online source, the word “chingering” means to caress another person’s chin in a sensual way. This is quite far removed from the meaning of the word chingering used by Anglo-Roma speakers. This word is used to refer to a quarrel or the act of insulting someone. The word again derives from the Roma words “činger” and “čingerel” meaning to quarrel or shout.

5. Friend

It is perhaps the most used example of a Romani word found in everyday English, most often meaning “friend” in English. This term actually comes from the Romani word “phral” meaning brother. The Anglo-Romance word pal is also used for brother and has been extended and recrossed through dialect contact over the centuries into everyday English.

6. Angry

The English slang word “peeved” is sometimes used to refer to someone who has drunk too much alcohol and is again derived from a Romani word. The European Roma word “pijav” means “to drink” and shows a direct connection to English slang.

These are just a few examples and words like ‘lollipop’ and ‘doylum’ are also Anglo-Roma words. There are many other words from Anglo-Rom that have been adopted into English, and most likely a regional dialect you know will have some fascinating examples.

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