barbarian, barbaric, barbarous
1. These words had their origins in people's ideas about foreign languages. The Greek word barbaros, ‘barbarian’, which is the ultimate source of all these words, meant someone who spoke words sounding like ba ba. To the Greeks, the barbarians were foreigners, and principally the Persians, but the word carried no depreciatory overtones in itself. Over the centuries the non-Hellenic, non-Roman, or non-Christian peoples became regarded as enemies who violated and plundered the civilized world, and this gave rise to the unfavourable connotations of the term barbarian and associated words. By an understandable process of sense-development, in the 16c to 17c the word came to be applied to any person or group regarded as uncivilized or uncultivated, and in current use has many extended meanings, although a major area of use is still historical:

• Enlightenment man has undoubtedly been a man of power, but he has also been a barbarian —A. Walker, 1988

• Many survived the depredation of the barbarian incursion of the late third century from which Britain was spared —G. Webster, 1991

• She would not have minded if he had hired the Albert Hall to denounce her as a barbarian and certainly cared nothing for his kitchen sulks and drawing-room sarcasm —A. T. Ellis, 1993.

2. Since the 15c, barbaric has been applied to foreign customs, language, and culture that are regarded as backward or uncivilized:

• The noble savage…turns out to be a barbaric creature with a club and a scalping knife —H. J. Laski, 1920

• In this country we can kill people on the roads and walk free, and rape women and get away with around four years in prison —yet we have the cheek to call the Saudis barbaric —Today, 1992

• Some of the subsidiary practices [in fox-hunting] such as the ‘blooding’ of children are little short of barbaric —Independent, 1998.

Another (17c) use of the word, to describe exotic objects brought from abroad, has been confined to literary contexts such as Lawrence of Arabia's description of Arab costume as splendid and barbaric. In modern use, it is applied to brutal or wicked physical treatment of people, and is somewhat stronger and more specific than barbarous, which has a more general reference and is softened by its use in aesthetic as well as physical contexts:

• Formulating his phrases carefully in the barbarous French prose these people used —D. Bagley, 1966

• No doubt they are also the victims of a gross and barbarous fallacy —Enoch Powell, 1991.

Modern English usage. 2014.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Barbarous — Bar ba*rous, a. [L. barbarus, Gr. ba rbaros, strange, foreign; later, slavish, rude, ignorant; akin to L. balbus stammering, Skr. barbara stammering, outlandish. Cf. {Brave}, a.] 1. Being in the state of a barbarian; uncivilized; rude; peopled… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • barbarous — index brutal, cold blooded, cruel, disorderly, hot blooded, malevolent, malignant, ruthless, uncouth …   Law dictionary

  • barbarous — c.1400, uncivilized, uncultured, ignorant, from L. barbarus, from Gk. barbaros (see BARBARIAN (Cf. barbarian)). Meaning not Greek or Latin (of words or language) is from c.1500; that of savagely cruel is from 1580s …   Etymology dictionary

  • barbarous — 1 savage, barbaric, *barbarian Analogous words: *rough, harsh: untutored, untaught, uneducated, illiterate, *ignorant: *rude, rough, crude Antonyms: civilized: humane 2 savage, inhuman, ferocious, * …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • barbarous — [adj] crude, savage atrocious, barbarian, barbaric, brutal, brutish, coarse, cruel, ferocious, heartless, ignorant, inhuman, inhumane, monstrous, primitive, rough, rude, ruthless, sadistic, truculent, uncivil, uncivilized, uncouth, uncultured,… …   New thesaurus

  • barbarous — ► ADJECTIVE 1) exceedingly cruel. 2) primitive; uncivilized. DERIVATIVES barbarously adverb …   English terms dictionary

  • barbarous — [bär′bə rəs] adj. [L barbarus < Gr barbaros, foreign, strange, ignorant < IE echoic base * barbar , used for unintelligible speech of foreigners > Sans barbara , stammering, non Aryan] 1. Obs. foreign or alien; in the ancient world, non… …   English World dictionary

  • barbarous — adj. barbarous to + inf. (it was barbarous to treat prisoners in that manner) * * * [ bɑːb(ə)rəs] barbarous to + int. (it was barbarous to treat prisoners in that manner) …   Combinatory dictionary

  • barbarous — [[t]bɑ͟ː(r)bərəs[/t]] 1) ADJ GRADED (disapproval) If you describe something as barbarous, you strongly disapprove of it because you think that it is rough and uncivilized. He thought the poetry of Whitman barbarous. 2) ADJ GRADED (disapproval) If …   English dictionary

  • barbarous — adjective Etymology: Latin barbarus, from Greek barbaros foreign, ignorant Date: 15th century 1. a. uncivilized b. lacking culture or refinement ; Philistine 2. characterized by the occurrence of barbarisms …   New Collegiate Dictionary

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