[ bahr-bair-ee-uhn ]
/ bɑrˈbɛər i ən /
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Origin of barbarian

First recorded in 1540–50; from Latin barbari(a) “barbarous country” (see barbarous, -ia) + -an

synonym study for barbarian

6. Barbarian, barbaric, barbarous pertain to uncivilized people. Barbarian is the general word for anything uncivilized: a barbarian tribe. Barbaric has both unfavorable and mildly favorable connotations, implying crudeness of taste or practice, or conveying an idea of rude magnificence and splendor: barbaric noise. Barbarous emphasizes the inhumanity and cruelty of barbarian life: barbarous customs.


bar·bar·i·an·ism, nounhalf-bar·bar·i·an, adjectivenon·bar·bar·i·an, adjective, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What does barbarian mean?

The word barbarian is used to refer to a person who’s considered extremely crude and uncivilized.

It can also be used as an adjective meaning crude or uncivilized.

There are several related words that are used in the context of people or things considered uncivilized or cruel, including the adjectives barbaric and barbarous and the nouns barbarism and barbarity.

The term barbarian was used by the ancient Greeks and Romans to refer to any foreigner. In ancient and medieval times, it was variously used to refer to non-Greeks, non-Romans, and non-Christians.

The term eventually became associated with a stereotypical image of barbarians as primitive and brutish. For example, movies and comic strips often depict people they call barbarians as dressing in animal skins and carrying simple weapons, like wooden clubs.

Like the word savage, the word barbarian can be very offensive due to its use to dehumanize the people that it’s applied to, especially in a way that calls attention to their otherness or the supposed primitiveness of their culture or customs.

Still, barbarian is often used in an exaggerated way to refer to a person who behaves in a way considered crude or brutish. This use of the word focuses on a person’s crude behavior and is not intended to imply any sense of foreignness. It’s often intended to be lighthearted and humorous.

Example: Boys, please don’t track mud through the house like a bunch of barbarians!

Where does barbarian come from?

The first records of the word barbarian in English come from the 1540s. It ultimately comes from the Greek bárbaros, meaning “non-Greek,” or, more generally, “foreign.”

The Greek bárbaros is related to the Sanskrit barbara, which means “stammering” and was also used to refer to non-Aryans. The ultimate basis of these terms is thought to be an imitation of someone speaking a language that is completely incomprehensible, as if they were just saying the word bar over and over. This origin is indicative of how offensive the word barbarian can be when used in certain ways. Portraying an unfamiliar language as primitive gibberish simply because it’s unfamiliar is offensive in much the same way that calling a person a barbarian can be when it’s meant to dehumanize them due to their differences.

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What are some other forms related to barbarian?

What are some synonyms for barbarian?

What are some words that share a root or word element with barbarian

What are some words that often get used in discussing barbarian?

How is barbarian used in real life?

Barbarian is almost always used negatively, though the level of negativity varies widely. Historically, it was used as a negative term for foreigners, and it can be offensive when used to dehumanize a person and imply that their culture is primitive.

How to use barbarian in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for barbarian

/ (bɑːˈbɛərɪən) /

a member of a primitive or uncivilized people
a coarse, insensitive, or uncultured person
a vicious person
of an uncivilized culture
insensitive, uncultured, or brutal

Derived forms of barbarian

barbarianism, noun

Word Origin for barbarian

C16: see barbarous
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012