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The Origin of ‘Aryan’

Lena Åseth raises an interesting question I’ll bet many of the readers of this blog would be interested in. It has to do with the first word in the name of a racist organization called “The Aryan Brotherhood”.

“I need your expertise on the word aryan. Where does this word come from, and is it still in use? I know that it was used during the Nazi-war, under Hitler, but it’s a bit older than that, right?”

—Lena Åseth, Oslo, Norway

Although the word is still around, it is now used only in its racist sense. It comes from the Sanskrit word arya “noble, of a good, high-ranking family”. The word originally referred to the Proto-Indo-Europeans, but the inherent elitism of the word’s etymology led to its demise as a technical term.

The word was then picked up by the Nazis, who thought the Indo-Europeans must have been a race of exclusively white people (excluding Jews, of course). They attached this word to that mythical race. The elitism of the word’s etymology aligned itself quite nicely with the new meaning.

Most intellectuals now use Indo-European, while police departments and laymen use the more nearly descriptive term Caucasian, in referring to the original sense of Aryan. The Indo-Europeans, of course, did not originate in the Caucasus, but in an area now occupied by eastern Poland, Ukraine, and southern Russia. So, even this term is misleading.

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