Difference Between “Barbarous” and “Barbaric”?
Udit Chandna wonders what the difference is between barbarous and barbaric.
The short answer is not much.
Both words derive from a Greek word meaning “foreign.” The original word was coined as a nonsense word to indicate the sound of a language other than Greek. For the ancient Greeks, the only civilized language was Greek. Anything else was gibberish.
At first a “barbarian” was simply a non-Greek, a foreigner. After the Persian wars, the word took on a pejorative sense. A barbarian was not just foreign; he was uncivilized and brutal.
As far as the Greeks were concerned, the Romans were barbarians, but the Romans adopted the word to refer to any nation outside the sphere of Greek or Roman civilization,
Both barbaric and barbarous were in English by the 16th century. Barbaric was used with the meaning “foreign, strange, outlandish,” Barbarous first meant what the Romans meant by it, “not Greek or Latin,” but it soon came to mean “uncultured, savage,” and by the 1580s had taken on the sense of “savagely cruel.”
The noun barbarian entered English earlier than the adjectives. Barbarian came in via an Old French word that could mean “Berber, pagan, Saracen,” as well as a generic “barbarian.” Like the adjectives, barbarian derives from the Greek word for foreign.
In modern usage barbarous and barbaric are used interchangeably to mean “uncivilized.”
Some online uses of barbarous:
Barbarous Behavior: A high school chemistry teacher in Saudi Arabia has been sentenced to a public beating of 750 lashes and …
One consequence of the Iraq war is to expose (once again) the false divide between “civilized” and “barbarous” nations. The US seems as capable of barbarism as anyone else…
the barbarous treatment of the native peoples of the New World by those bent on conquest at any cost; an aunt who abhors barbarous behavior such as eating with your fingers (illustrations from Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary)
Some online uses of barbaric:
Much of what’s seen today is a result of harebrained ideas and a tolerance for barbaric behavior (William E. Williams discussing dangerous conditions that exist in some public schools.)
Worst Excuse For Barbaric Behavior So Far Today: Brazilian Prison Rioters Display Decapitated Heads
Barbaric behavior leads to Somerville woman’s arrest [the behavior the woman was charged with included: assault to rob, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, resisting arrest, destruction of property, disorderly conduct and threat to commit a crime. Delicious piece of irony: the woman was identified as a Ms. Barberian!)
Considering the barbaric behavior that takes place during the New year Eve Party – should government consider enforcing prohibition on 31st and 1st ?
I would probably use barbaric to denote uncivilized behavior that includes violence, and reserve barbarous for matters of language and table manners.
Want to improve your English in five minutes a day? Get a subscription and start receiving our writing tips and exercises daily!
Keep learning! Browse the Vocabulary category, check our popular posts, or choose a related post below:
Stop making those embarrassing mistakes! Subscribe to Daily Writing Tips today!
- You will improve your English in only 5 minutes per day, guaranteed!
- Subscribers get access to our archives with 800+ interactive exercises!
- You'll also get three bonus ebooks completely free!