Based on some recent events, I have constructed a handy list of other words anyone can use when they are tempted to use “Gypsy” as a noun or adjective to describe anything or anyone not of Rom/a descent or origin. Even then, you need to know that most folks of Rom/a descent consider the use of Gypsy as a racial slur.
Let me repeat this: most folks of Rom/a descent consider the use of Gypsy as a racial slur.
I do not care that your intent was well-intentioned. I do not care if you — if you are NOT OF ROM/A DESCENT — don’t think it’s a slur. It is. No matter how much you wish it weren’t so, it is. You do not get to decide, on behalf of another culture, what is offensive. You can decide to ignore that and use the term anyway. But then, you need to have your come-to-Jesus/math/whatever you hold dear moment where you are absolutely OK with the fact that you are using a slur.
There is no argument.
Some folks of Rom/a descent want to reclaim Gypsy, just as other folks have tried to reclaim slurs against them. And you may even hear folks of Rom/a descent use the word Gypsy to describe themselves or their culture. BUT THEY WILL NEVER USE THE WORD TO DESCRIBE A DRESS, A HAT, A PERSON WHO TRAVELS FOR PLEASURE, and so forth. They will refer to themselves, their culture, music, and the like.
The good news is that there are LOTS of wonderful words in the English language you can use instead of using a slur. I have started a list below (not grouped in any way. Some are nouns, some are adjectives. There’s even a few verbs). Use this list as inspiration to find better, non-hurtful words. I will add to this list as I think of new ones, and please, don’t hesitate to drop me a line with others I have not yet included.
You will notice I DID NOT USE THE WORD “BOHEMIAN.” Purposefully. Bohemian refers also to a culture: a historical one, located in the area that is now the Czech Republic. Though the word has become associated with various artistic or academic communities and is used as a generalized adjective describing such people, environs, or situations, there are many, many words that are even better, more evocative, and precise.
Onto the list (as of 9/25/14)
Exotic, artistic, wanderer, trek, voyager, free spirited, peregrine, unconventional, romantic, iconoclast, explorer, fanciful, offbeat, folkloric, adventurer, maverick, original, flowy, layered, loose-fitting, kooky, whimsical, colorful, bawdy, naughty, odd, gallivanting, experimental, sectarian, lacy, fluttery, wild, roving, ruffled, liberated, spontaneous, nomadic, fantasy, medieval, quirky, frippery, coquette, playful, dandy, jazz, lighthearted, glamorous, migratory, vagabond, wayfaring, itinerant, gadabout, wanton, ramble, fairy tale, Arcadian, rustic, mythic, poetic, traditional, foreign, expatriate