Spain’s oldest dictionary under fire for equating ‘gypsy’ with ‘cheat’

Roma group calls on Royal Spanish Academy to remove latest definition of the word, saying ‘language has consequences’

Spain’s oldest and most authoritative dictionary has prompted outrage by defining “gypsy” as “one who lies and cheats”.

After 13 years spent updating entries, the Royal Spanish Academy unveiled its 23rd edition of the Spanish dictionary at a sombre ceremony presided by King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia, earlier this month.

The new edition removed a previous definition of “gitano” or “gypsy” as an adjective meaning “defrauding or operating with deception”.

But it added a new secondary meaning, saying the word was synonymous with “trapacero” – an adjective meaning dishonest or swindling.

Arguing that the definition is obsolete and does little more than feed into prejudices, the Association of Feminist Gypsies for Diversity is taking action. They’re calling on Spaniards to support their call to remove the definition by uploading photos of themselves with messages for the Academy to the group’s Facebook page.

“You can’t label an entire community, an entire culture, a whole population like this,” said member Maria José Jiménez Cortiñas. “The entry legitimises stereotypes. We’re asking that for once the Academy move ahead of society and eliminate definitions that serve only to marginalise our community.”

The group is also organising a protest next week in front of the headquarters of the Academy in Madrid. “Language has consequences,” she said. “This is a world-renowned institution that carries a lot of weight, they need to be held accountable for their actions.”

Roma groups across Spain have been lobbying for years to have the definition of gitano changed in the Academy’s dictionary, after the 2001 edition included in the definition “someone who scams or works with deceit”.

They celebrated last year after Spanish media reported that their complaints had prompted a promise from the academics behind the dictionary to revise the definition in the upcoming edition.

While the latest edition featured 5,000 new words and hundreds of thousands of changes to existing definitions, “they didn’t change gitano,” said Jiménez Cortiñas.

The Academy didn’t reply to The Guardian’s request for an interview. But in presenting the new edition in early October, director José Manuel Blecua, told journalists that “a dictionary must be scientifically correct, and if possible, politically correct, but only if possible.”

The Academy was even more clear in it’s stance on Twitter. When asked by one user about its newest definition of gitano, they noted that the dictionary, “doesn’t authorise or impose the sense in which speakers use or have used the words; it only seeks to reflect this.”

• This article was amended on 7 November 2014. An earlier version did not attribute parts of the text to AFP as is consistent with Guardian editorial guidelines. This has been corrected.


Ashifa Kassam in Madrid and Agence France-Presse

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