phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at


Posted by Israel Cohen on May 13, 2001

In Reply to: Gyp and gypsies posted by R. Berg on April 17, 2001

Prof. Ian Hancock --

It is popularly believed that the Roma are called
Gypsies because it was mistakenly thought that
they came from Egypt. For example, Random House
online says:

Gypsy (jip'see) n. pl. adj.
1. a member of a traditionally itinerant people,
orig. of N India, now residing mostly in permanent
communities in many countries of the world. ...
[1505-15; back formation from gipcyan,

Today I posted the following item on the
[email protected] discussion list.
Thought you might enjoy reading it.

Israel Cohen
[email protected]

-----Original Message-----
From: Cohen, Izzy
Sent: Thursday, January 11, 2001 1:06 PM
To: '[email protected]'; [email protected]
Subject: Rolling Stones = gypsies on wheels ?

Paul A. Carson wrote:

> Today we have an agreement that this set of metaphors
> will be accepted to communicate this set of ideas. ...
> What happens when this agreement expires?

"A rolling stone gathers no moss."

When this saying arose, "moss" meant possessions
and "gathering moss" was good. Today, gathering
moss sounds more like vegetating, and a mossback
is a reactionary with antiquated ideas. So, today,
"gathering moss" doesn't sound so good.

I suspect the original "rolling stone" was literally
a gypsy on (wagon) wheels. The "stone" sounds like
Hebrew TZi3oNi = gypsy (where 3 = aiyin, which
has lost its velar G/K sound). Giving this aiyin
its original sound makes this word cognate with
Tzigane = gypsy (music). Of course, today, "rolling
stone" sounds more like a rock group (pun probably
intended by that group).