An Introduction to Barbarism

Barbarism refers to the use of incorrect words, forms, or expression that violate the rules of a language. Rhetorically, it is a mistake in vocabularyOpens in new window, pronunciationOpens in new window, or grammarOpens in new window due to ignorance or confusion.

Tuning in to a classical music station, one hears the anchor introduce a chaconneOpens in new window from Jean-Baptiste Lully’sOpens in new window music for Molière’sOpens in new window comêdie-balletOpens in new window,Le Bourgeois GentilhommeOpens in new window.” During his otherwise erudite preamble, uttered in admirably impeccable “radio-announcer” American English, the speaker repeatedly mispronounces the title of Molière’s work, specifically the third word. Although it is evident that he is making an effort to get the FrenchOpens in new window right, the word gentilhomme [Ʒãtiįćm] keeps coming out [jὲntɨlxόṷm] – a blatant Anglicization that makes no concession to the phonetics of the original language phonetically and stylistically, the pronunciation is what is called a Barbarism. (Michael Shapiro, The Speaking Self: Language Lore and English Usage)
Example of Barbarism
    American writers have had some fun with the dialects of uneducated slaves — witness Poe’s Jupiter:
  • “Claws enuff, massa, and mouff too. I nebber did see sich a d – d bug – he kick and he bite ebery ting what cum near him. Massa Will cotch him fuss, but had for to let him go gin mighty quick, I tell you – den was de time he must ha got de bite. I didn’t like de look ob de bug mouff, myself, no how, so I wouldn’t take hold ob him wid my finger, but I cotch him wid a piece ob paper dat I found. I rap him up in de paper and stuff piece ob it in he mouff – dat was de way.”
  • — (Edgar Allan Poe, The Gold-Bug, 5:102-3; courtesy of Brett Zimmerman, Edgar Allan Poe: Rhetoric and Style)

Etymologically, the word barbarism is derives from Latin, “barbarismus”—the use of a foreign tongue or of one’s own tongue amiss. The Greek root for barbarism, is barbarismos, from barbarizein, literally means to behave or speak like a barbarian. The English word barbarism originally relates to incorrect use of language, but in contemporary usage, it denotes ignorance, absurdity, or crudity in social matters, as well as in verbal expression.

Further Readings:
Brett Zimmerman | Edgar Allan Poe: Rhetoric and Style Barbarismus (Pg. 153)Opens in new window
Michael Shapiro | The Speaking Self: Language Lore and English Usage: Second Edition | Barbarisms (Pg. 7)Opens in new window