Rather than wrongly lump all nomadic peoples under the umbrella term, “gypsy”, here is a guide of appropriate terms to use.
Terms to not use when referring to nomadic people or nomadic sub-ethnic populations:
gypsy [jip-see] noun
Usage note: The term gypsy is a degrading pejorative for persons who belong to the Romani ethnic population.
A member of a nomadic Indo-Aryan people of generally dark complexion who migrated originally from India & Pakistan, settling in various parts of Asia, Europe, and, most recently, North America.
vagabond [vag-uh-bond] adjective
1. Wandering from place to place without any settled home.
2. Leading an unsettled carefree life.
3. Disreputable, worthless, shiftless.
vagrant [vey-gruhnt] noun
1. A person who wanders about idly and has no permanent home or employment.
2. An idle person without visible means of support, as a tramp or beggar.
drifter [drif-ter] noun
1. A person who goes from place to place, job to job, etc.
2. A boat used in fishing with a drift net.
hobo [hoh-boh] noun
A tramp or vagrant.
tramp [trӕmp] noun
1. A person who travels about on foot, usually with no permanent home, living by begging, doing casual work.
2. A long hard walk.
3. An iron plate on the sole of a boot.
4. (slang) A prostitute or promiscuous girl or woman.
pikey [paiki] noun
Usage note: A slang pejorative used in the United Kingdom to describe members of the Pavee sub-Irish ethnic population; commonly known as Irish Travellers.
1. A vagrant.
2. A member of the underclass (possibly derived from the term turnpike).
Words you should use when referring to nomadic people or nomadic sub-ethnic populations:
nomad [noh-mad] noun
A member of a people or tribe that has no permanent abode but moves about from place to place, usually seasonally and often following a traditional route or circuit according to the state of the pasturage or food supply.
An Indo-Aryan people who migrated from the Rajasthan & Punjab regions of India & what is today part of the nation-state of Pakistan following the invasion of the Persian Muslims and now live primarily in Europe and the Americas.
An Indo-Aryan people who migrated from the Rajasthan & Punjab regions of India & parts of what is now the nation-state of Pakistan shortly after the invasion of the Persian Muslims who now live throughout the Middle East, Central Asia, and across North Africa. Very closely related to the Romani.
An ethnic group living in north-central Tanzania in the Great Rift Valley. The language of the Hazda is most closely related to the Khoisan language family, though they are genetically isolated from neighboring ethnic populations.
An ethnic people from the Rajasthan region of India. They live primarily in north-west Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and the Eastern Sindh province. They are divided into two tribes; the Maturia & the Labana.
A sub group of the ethnic Turkic people who live primarily in Turkmenistan & Afghanistan, northeastern Syria, Iran and Iraq. The language is Turkmen, of the Oghuz dialectal branch of Turkic. It is closely related to Turkish, Azerbaijani, Qashqui, Gagauz, and Salar.
An ethnic people who live between the Guaviare & Inirida rivers within the Amazon basin in the nation-state of Columbia. The Nukak are seasonally nomadic. Their language is a dialect of the Nadahup language.
Commonly known as Irish Travellers, the Pavee are a sub-ethnic group of Irish who live mostly in the Republic of Ireland & the United Kingdom. The Pavee speak a dialect of the Shelta language, as well as Irish Traveller Cant; which derives from Gaelic.
An Arabian sub-ethnic population who live mostly throughout the Arabian Peninsula, as well as in Egypt. The Bedouin are divided into various tribes, each of which generally speaks one of three Arabic dialects; Najdi, Hassaniya, or Bedawi.
The Yupik are a people indigenous to regions of Alaska and the Russian far east. They include the following tribes; Alutiiq, Central Alaskan Yu’pik, Siberian Yupik, and the Nuakan, Chaplino, and Sirenik. The Yupik language is still widely spoken in both Alaska & Russia. There are five Yupik dialects.
The Hmong are an ethnic population living in regions of China, Vietnam, Laos, & Thailand. The Hmong have many ethnic sub-divisions & speak their own language; Hmong.
A sub-ethnic group of the Nilotic people living in Kenya & Tanzania. The language they speak is Maa, which is a member of the Nilo-Saharan language family. Many Maasai also speak Swahili & English fluently.
The Lori are an ethnic population who live in Pakistan & Iran. They are divided into two sub groups; the Sarmas-Lori & the Zabgisgahi. The Lori are speculated to have migrated from India. They speak the Balochi language.
This in no way accounts for all peoples who were ever once or are still nomadic by culture, tradition, oppression, or necessity. Each nomadic population belongs to a certain ethnicity. Certainly, not all nomadic peoples are related, and thus, we cannot be placed under umbrella terms & misappropriated words.
It is most respectful to always ask what a particular individual prefers to be called. Self identification is important to all human beings no matter to which race or ethnicity we belong. Ascribing English adjectives, derogatory terms, or pejoratives from the English language to various nomadic peoples is insulting & ignorant.
We are more than nomads. We are people; human beings with emotions who identify with & embrace a particular heritage & culture. Please respect us as such.