Posts Tagged ‘barbarian’

Grooming Hints from the Vandals

Posted in English Stew, General on March 4th, 2010 by Eugene Finerman – 4 Comments

Did you think that the words barbarian and barber were just phonetic coincidences?  On the contrary, etymology has more than its share of irony.

Barbarian originally comes from the Greek word for strangers: barbaroi. The Greeks applied it to anyone who had the misfortune not to be Greek. Of course, the Romans never thought that it applied to them, so they stole the word along everything else in Hellenic culture. The Romans then used the term to describe those wild thugs across the Rhine and the Danube: hence, the term: barbarian. The Romans noticed that the ancient Germans didn’t bother to shave, and the legionnaires coined the term “barba” to describe the unkempt Teutonic facial hair. That slang became the basis for the French and Italian words for beards and our term for one who trims beards–barber. 

Of course, you erudite readers–particularly you Jeopardy fans–will raise the question, “Doesn’t Xenophobia mean a fear of foreigners?”  (So you thought you caught me!)  That is how we interpret the word, but an ancient Greek would contradict us.  To him, it would mean “a fear of strangers“, specifically Greeks from other city states.  If 500 years of civil wars are any indication, the ancient Greeks had no trouble hating each other.

And if you know anyone named Barbara, don’t tell her what her name really means.


p.s.  Let’s not forget the historic significance of this day: