The Original ‘Bigot’


Bigot: a person who is intolerant toward those holding different opinions — ORIGIN: late 16th century (denoting a superstitious religious hypocrite): from French, of unknown origin.

~New Oxford American Dictionary

Is it possible to go in search of the origin of a word? Etymology, the study of the origin of words and how they change throughout history, is considered a noble pursuit for a writer or historian. The search can be particularly interesting when the word has a disputed origin plus a dark side referring to a type of human behavior, and the word bigot falls under that shadow.

The meaning of bigot today is much broader than it used to be. In the late 16th century it rose out of the French language and meant a superstitious religious hypocrite. Exactly who the French were saying that about is where controversy and disputes arise. One accepted idea is that it originally referred to the Normans of northern France, who descended from Vikings who pillaged and settled many areas of northern Europe, England, and Ireland starting around 900AD.

A history of the Normans is too vast and long to get into in this space. Suffice it to say that the Vikings were pagans and some of them settled into communities like the area now known as Normandy. Over time they adopted the Christian ways of the locals. So one might imagine a time when their descendants were Christians by day and pagans by night, and the word ‘bigot’ arose to disparage their behavior. Later that word found its way into English.

A few linguists proffer a story that the word bigot comes from a Germanic or Middle English expression ‘bi God’ (by God) originally shouted by a former pagan Viking conqueror named Rollo while refusing to kiss the French king’s feet in a show of fealty. It then became used as an exclamation against unruly behavior of former Vikings who piously exaggerated Christian worship by day to cover up their darker drunken exploits by night. The problem with all this is that it appears that the ones doing the name calling were actually the bigots, intolerant of those from another culture. So it’s a case of turnabout is fair play, but this story is most-likely not true and the original use of bigot is something more obscure.

Whomever the original bigot might have been is lost to history, but there seems to be no shortage of folks today to carry on the behavior into the future.

Categories: InSearchOf...Tags: , , ,

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