One of the theories behind the word “barbarian” is that it’s an onomatopoeic word that describes people who don’t speak Greek. “It sounds like they’re just saying ‘bar’ over and over again! Barbarbar Barbar! Barbarbarbar!” This is pretty uncharitable on their part… but what can you do?

I bring that up because I recently stumbled across (and I can’t remember where!!!) a video of a comedy show from Italy where the joke is that the professor is singing in English… when, really, he’s just singing gibberish that sounds like English.

Hey, he put a lot more effort into it than just saying that we sound like we’re saying “bar” over and over again. (The fact that it’s a pretty good song helps, of course.)

Check it out:


Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to


  1. I’ve seen this before, but it blows me away every time I hear it. It’s so close to English you end up straining your ears trying to make sense of it.

    • I’ve heard this is largely true of Dutch, as well. The sounds are so close to English that you try to make sense of it. Which, you likely can do a bit better since it’s not gibberish and is a related language.

    • It’s got the whole “Ode to a Louse” thing going on… except after seeing how others see us (or hearing how others hear us), I feel flattered and somewhat tickled.

  2. Uh, sorry, but your etymology needs a little work. Barbus is the Latin word for beard. Roman men were clean shaven, but all those tribes of outsiders, particularly the Germanic people, wore thick, manly beards that marked them as being not Roman. So Barbarian means literally; those guys with beards. Functionally, it means someone not of MY culture.

    • “Barbarian means someone who has a beard. Here’s a song by some Italians making fun of English.”

  3. From the Onlyne Etymology Dictionary, it appears that the term pre-dates the Romans, coming from the Greek, so although the Latin “barbus” (or “barba,” according to an on-line translator) does mean beard, that’s probably not the origin.

    barbarian Look up barbarian at
    mid-14c. (adj.), from M.L. barbarinus (cf. O.Fr. barbarin “Berber, pagan, Saracen, barbarian”), from L. barbaria “foreign country,” from Gk. barbaros “foreign, strange, ignorant,” from PIE base *barbar- echoic of unintelligible speech of foreigners (cf. Skt. barbara- “stammering,” also “non-Aryan”). Greek barbaroi (n.) meant “all that are not Greek,” but especially the Medes and Persians. Originally not entirely pejorative, its sense darkened after the Persian wars. The Romans (technically themselves barbaroi) took up the word and applied it to tribes or nations which had no Greek or Roman accomplishments. The noun is from late 14c., “person speaking a language different from one’s own,” also (c.1400) “native of the Barbary coast;” meaning “rude, wild person” is from 1610s.

    • This is what I was taught. I understand that there’s a bit of debate, but that this etymology has more going for it.

      As another example of the phenomenon (this one uncontested), the word for “German” in some Slavic languages derives from the word for “mute”.

      • Given that barbarian is originally a Greek word, it seems just as likely that the causality is reversed: Romans associated beards with uncivilized foreigners and that shaped their word for beard. So barbarian doesn’t mean “those guys with beards” instead barbus means “those things uncivilised people have”.

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