• diaspora •
Pronunciation: dai-æs-pê-rê • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. The dispersal of a people outside their homeland. 2. A people, collectively, that lives in dispersed areas outside its homeland. If capitalized, Diaspora refers specifically to the Jewish community living outside Israel.
Notes: We have not yet decided which adjective should accompany today's Good Word, diasporic or diasporal. Until that decision is reached, we are free to use either.
In Play: Diasporas are usually caused by some calamity in the homeland of a nation or people. The Jewish Diaspora began with the deportation of Judeans to Babylonia by Nebuchadnezzar in 597 and 586 BCE, following his victories over them. In addition to the Jewish Diaspora, it is reasonable to speak of the Afro-American diaspora caused by the slave trade, particularly in West Africa. William Saroyan and Peter Balakian represent writers of the Armenian diaspora, caused by the Turkish genocide of 1915-1923. The cause of the Roma (Gypsy) diaspora is unknown, though most scholars agree that the Roma originated in northern India.
Word History: Today's Good Word is simply the word diaspora "dispersion" transliterated from the Greek. Greek diaspora is the noun of the verb diaspeirein "to disperse, spread out", made up of dia "through, apart" + speirein "to sow, scatter". Speirein is also the source of the noun sperma "seed", now used in English without the A. The Indo-European root sper- "spread, sprinkle" came directly to English in a variety of forms: spray, spread, sprawl, and sprinkle, to mention just four. In Latin the root turns up in the verb spargere "to sprinkle, scatter" which, with the prefix dis-, produced the noun dispersio(n) "scattering". (We are grateful that, when Helen Barrett disperses her thoughts on words like this one, she remembers us.)