Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

Travellers and Gypsies

with 11 comments

Vincent van Gogh: The Caravans - Gypsy Camp ne...
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The following are acceptable terms:

  • Travellers (no, not people off on their holidays; they would be travellers, lower-case ‘t’)
  • Gypsies
  • Irish Travellers

Note that these terms always take an initial capital letter.

There is no need to describe people as any of the above if the fact is not relevant to what you are writing about.

Never use words such as ‘tinker’, ‘gypo/gyppo’ or ‘itinerant’. Not even with an initial capital letter.

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11 Responses

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  1. Me gramps was from County Cork. I recall him talking, with a mild sneer, about tinkers on the strand (of the Irish Sea). (It was a different time, of course.) I think he begrudgingly respected them because they were so skilled at fixing things. (Gramps was a blacksmith and a gamekeeper for the English gentry and military men, before he immigrated to the Boston States.)

    Michael Farrell

    08/01/2010 at 5:07 am

    • Hi, Michael — thanks for stopping by again. That’s a really interesting family history to have. The word ‘tinker’ apparently derives from Middle English and was first recorded as a surname, but the word is of unknown origin. I just looked it up in my dictionary and it is noted there as a ‘derogatory’ word if used to refer to a Gypsy.


      08/01/2010 at 8:06 am

  2. Yup. Gramps’s folk etymology, passed down to dad, it was derived from their tinkering with broken objects or the sound of their hammering on tin. I suspect that’s wildly fanciful. 🙂 The Irish in Ireland and New England (and possibly others–not sure) still use “tinker mackerel” to refer to certain small mackerel.

    The whole “Gypsy/Irish Traveller” (we’d spell it with one L) debate can get very heated online. I once saw an angry debate go on all day.

    Michael Farrell

    08/01/2010 at 5:11 pm

    • I like that — ‘tinker mackerel’!


      08/01/2010 at 5:22 pm

  3. Check out the too-serious, too-dogmatic FB group called “There’s no such language as English (US).” Tee hee

    Michael Farrell

    09/01/2010 at 4:23 pm

    • Interesting (and a tiny bit scary)! I think there are more important things to get hung up about when it comes to the way we use language.


      09/01/2010 at 4:43 pm

  4. Facebook has its own sub-culture. It takes some testing and seasoning to get used to it. A wise friend, who moderates a huge FB group on popular culture, advised me to stay away from any group that’s rife with smugness and rancor. I come to your blog and similar sites to have fun, escape a bit, and maybe learn something, too. What’s the point of spatting on the Net?

    I got into a minor tussle yesterday on a FB Group (US-based) over my use of “none” as a singular meaning “not one.” My (youthful) detractors insisted it had to be plural (I guess that reflects a bit of a linguistic shift from the old “rule” about “none”?). It’s the sort of grammar issue that even a moment’s research would answer.

    Michael Farrell

    09/01/2010 at 4:56 pm

    • I always thought that ‘none’ was definitely singular (the research I had carried out using various reference works affirmed this). However, I recently read this on Oxford Dictionaries:
      http://www.askoxford.com/concise_oed/none?view=uk, … and consider myself corrected.


      09/01/2010 at 5:18 pm

  5. Ha! Funny… The youths who were after me were British, and they questioned how “none” could be singular! It can have the sing. sense “not one” or the pl. sense “not any” (hence followed by “are”). My sense 🙂 is people now use it more as a plural. As B. Garner says, insisting on using it as a singular can sound “stilted.”

    But my real point to the detractors was that a modicum of research would show it can be either.

    Michael Farrell

    09/01/2010 at 5:39 pm

    • …And you were absolutely right!


      09/01/2010 at 5:41 pm

  6. A point of view from Roxy Freeman, writing in The Independent.


    I do not live on the road, but much of my family does. Some relatives legally occupy their own land, but still come up against opposition. Gypsies defy the dreams of those wanting a homogeneous society, which is crime enough in many people’s eyes.

    The extreme ignorance to our way of live saddens and infuriates me, but people only notice the negative side of a travelling life.


    15/02/2011 at 6:11 pm

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