Why/How did the Bohemian ethnic group become essentially synonymous with “hippies” and a certain aesthetic? Are Gypsy, Romany, and Bohemian terms for the same group?



Why/How did the Bohemian ethnic group become essentially synonymous with “hippies” and a certain aesthetic? Are Gypsy, Romany, and Bohemian terms for the same group?

In: Culture

It was thought that Romani in France got there via Bohemia, so they became called Bohemians. From there, a certain type of lifestyle became called “bohemian” by associations (whether real or imagined) with what the Romani lifestyle was perceived to be.

“Gypsy” was mostly used as an offensive slur against the Romani, though that’s not aways the intent as it fell into more common usage. However, usage in contexts like “I got gypped!” always implied an intended offense – you’re using the word to mean something negative. It’s the equivalent of using “jewed” as a verb.

Okay, first let get the ‘g’ word out of the way; it’s kind of a curse word. Think the ‘n’ word, but *they* don’t even say it for the most part. It’s that bad. They’re just Romani.[^1](https://now.org/blog/the-g-word-isnt-for-you-how-gypsy-erases-romani-women/)

And Bohemian is actually a misnomer. The Czech Republic wasn’t always a thing, so they were the Kingdom of Bohemia back then. The French later borrowed it because that’s where they thought their influx of Romani had come from. [^2](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bohemian) [^3](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bohemianism)

The Romani are just a nomadic group. They span a wide breadth of nationalities and cultures, but began in northern India. They are kinda what’s left of our propensity to travel, although they don’t all travel nowadays. [^4](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romani_people)

You see, like most primates, we’re kinda built to eat off one section of land, travel, then eat off another. Usually in rotation so that the place we left can regrow and redevelop. This, of course, turns into… the source of most of the problems we have today, but I’m off-topic…

So college students in colleges in the 50s, 60s, and 70s find all this out and love it. A LOT. War was going on, and also we were starting to science out things surrounding our… efficient use of our planet. So in an effort to fight these things, they mimicked the style and lifestyle, and THAT became a thing. Then media moguls later took that this was their nostalgia, and now the whole Hippie thing is a major western cultural thing. I’m condensing, tremendously, but that’s the basic jist. [^5](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hippie)

PS: Fact-checking myself, I didn’t even know the ‘Kingdom of Bohemia’ thing, so I learned something. I just knew the ‘g’ word thing and most of the rest, and felt the need to answer… Soooo, thank *you*. :3

Edit: ~~NUMBERS~~

Bohemian became a term for hippie after the French saw an influx of Romani and thought they were from Bohemia, subsequently equating the traits of the Romani with the name of the Bohemian and later morphing into the hippe idea that exists today. Bohemia was its own territory before the Czech Republic happened and us Bohemes are actually not very much like the idea of ‘bohemian’ or ‘boho’ you see today; we’re more known for our quaint houses, often traditionally-dressed citizens, and honey cake.

Source: my family is Bohemian; my great-grandmother was the first of us to immigrate to America around the early 1900s

In early 19th century France a lot of artists, actors, writers and other creative types had begun to live in lower class, low-rent neighbourhoods that were often home to large Romani populations.

Other comments have mentioned that the Romani people were thought to have originated in Bohemia. It’s also worth pointing out that the word ‘gypsy’ is derived from the Greek for ‘Egyptian’ because they were thought to have been exiled from Egypt in the Byzantine Empire. Modern genetic evidence suggests they actually originated from northern India, but that’s not really relevant.

Some Romani groups find ‘gypsy’ to be offensive so it’s best avoided, but that’s not universally true and it’s equally offensive to lump all Romani people together. There are many disparate subgroups, but let’s not get into that here.

The original lower-case bohemians were associated with unorthodox lifestyles and anti-establishment politics. They often lived in voluntary poverty, working less than they could to have more time to pursue their art and having few permanent ties, furthering their association with the upper case Bohemian people in France who were generally poor. Both groups were also associated with lawlessness (probably unfairly) as in the opera *Carmen* where the title character (who is Romani) sings that “love is a gypsy child, it has never ever known the law”.

The unorthodox way of life of French bohemians quickly spread out of France and the name was adopted in New York by a group of writers, poets and journalists in the mid 1800s. Amongst them was Walt Whitman, whose poetry was highly controversial for its overt sexuality, and Fitz Hugh Ludlow, whose book *The Hasheesh Eater* describing his experiences using cannabis helped to popularise its usage in the United States. Whitman was a big influence on the Beat Generation of the 1940s and 50s, particularly on Allen Ginsberg. The Beats also broke with conventional lifestyles in favour of spirituality, sexual liberty and creative pursuits but they tended to be less politically active than the previous generations of bohemians. A lot of them also hated being called ‘beatniks’. Again, that’s not really very relevant, but I find it interesting. ‘Beatnik’ was coined as an insult, associating the Beats with the Russian satellite Sputnik, and therefore with communism. Because the Beats were generally not very political they didn’t want that association and thought of the people who embraced the beatnik moniker as being poseurs who were copying their aesthetic but not really being part of the Beat Generation.

The counter-culture revolution of the 1960s and 70s took some influence from the Beats, but it ramped up political engagement in light of the Civil Rights Movement and escalation of the Vietnam War, and it moved away from the darker, more drab style of the Beat Generation in favour of a brighter, more colourful aesthetic. Combined with the popularity of psychedelics at the time (Ludlow’s *The Hasheeh Eater* had a popular resurgence in the 60s) and the ‘flower power’ protest movement and their influence on hippie fashion, their style was partly influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

The Pre-Raphaelites were a group of artists who worked in England in the mid 1800s, during the height of the original bohemianism although the two weren’t closely associated at the time. They rejected the prevalent art of the time which they considered ‘sloshy’ and drab, in favour of brighter compositions, similar to the way the hippie movement rejected the darker Beat style. They considered the study of nature an important part of depicting it, and held that their art had to Express ‘genuine ideas’ and not just be conventional and ‘learned by rote’. Given that their paintings often depicted the fashions of their era, those fashions became popular as part of the ‘boho’ style of the 1960s and 70s.

Bohemia the region of Western Czechia. Bohemians are Western Czechs.

Romani are an ethnic group with Indian roots and heritage, although Romani have been in Europe for centuries.

Gypsy is an ethnic slur against Romani people. People called Romani people “Gypsies” because they thought they were Egyptian.

Some Romani people use the word Gypsy as an identity, although non-Romani shouldn’t use it. It’s similar to how “Red Indian” is a slur against Native Americans, but many Native Americans use the term and identify with it.

In France, Romani people entered the country via Bohemia, so French people used to called Romani people Bohemians, although nowadays they don’t.

Bohemians (People from Western Czechia) and Romani/Gypsies have nothing to do with hippies or hippy culture. Hippies appropriated these terms for themselves, and nearly all Bohemians and Romani/Gypsies don’t like the fact that they did.

Source: I am Romani.

Thank you to everyone for the answers! As I stated in another comment here too, I had no idea the word was offensive and will be sure not to use it anymore.

One side of my family is Bohemian and I am trying to learn more about the history. I know that they came over in the late 1800’s. I honestly don’t know much beyond that and am looking into it more. I also want to learn more because I have met a couple people who don’t think Bohemian is a valid way to identify because (and I quote a classmate from college) “they don’t have a country so how can your family be from there?” To be fair she really wasn’t the brightest crayon in the box… Anyway…

In doing research, a lot of words are used interchangeably that really shouldn’t be and I am trying to separate them all out. So that is again for all of the help!