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I want to describe a person or group of thugs who cause damage without concern for science or culture. I had written down "mongol behavior", in reference to the Mongol invasion. Is there an all-culture-friendly word to express a similar concept?

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    There's an extra danger with using "Mongol", which is that people might see a connection to "Mongoloid", which was an old word for someone with Down syndrome. That's definitely not an epithet you want to be using in this enlightened age! – Tom Anderson Apr 26 at 12:09
  • I wanted to suggest the Huns as a stand-in replacement until I realized the word was used as a pejorative blanket term for Germans during WWI and WWII. It seems no matter what historical metaphor you may be tempted to use, it will inadvertently target someone innocent, so best avoid it altogether. – undercat Apr 26 at 12:52
  • I don't think you can describe a person or group of thugs who cause damage with no respect to science, or culture using an all-culture-friendly word. – Lucian Sava Apr 26 at 12:54
  • @LucianSava By "all-culture-friendly" I mean something that doesn't offend a culture. For example, if I call them "mongols", then some nice people in Mongolia may rightfully say "hey, I'm a nice person". – CaptainCodeman Apr 26 at 13:10
  • Every Mongolian person would say that. If you're concerned about cultural sensitivity, lowercasing anyone's proper name is never the way to go. That said, good on you for realizing it and asking around. – lly Apr 26 at 16:57
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Note that “thug” comes from a violent religious sect in India, and “vandal” from a Germanic people that ravaged parts of Europe. “Barbarian” refers to uncivilized others, without reference to any specific people, so that may be your best bet.

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    Barbarian refers to people from Barbary, the Saracen countries along the north coast of Africa. – Spagirl Apr 26 at 11:51
  • Is it just as acceptable to say "mongol" as it is to say "vandal" ? – CaptainCodeman Apr 26 at 12:00
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    @Spagirl Other way round - there's an ancient Greek work 'barbaroi' which means "people who don't speak Greek" (probably because their speech sounds like "bababa", like English "blah blah"), and therefore uncivilized barbarians. Lots of barbarians who vandalised the Greeks came from North Africa, so the name got associated with them. – Tom Anderson Apr 26 at 12:06
  • @Spagirl my understanding is that the original Greek meaning of “barbarian” predates that specific connotation; the word was applied as a sort of back-formation to that region much later. – Ernest Friedman-Hill Apr 26 at 12:07
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    @CaptainCodeman: there are no Vandals around today (or at least, no people who call themselves Vandals), so "vandal" is clearly more acceptable. – Peter Shor Apr 26 at 12:07
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Well, as Ms A pointed out, "damag[ing] without concern for science or culture" isn't a sense that (M|m)ongol even has. The Yuan Dynasty was a highpoint of Chinese cosmopolitanism and, even in the west, the Mongols subsidized astronomical advances. Good soldiers tend to love good applied science; scientifically hostile groups tend to be religious zealots like Savonarola. Mongol's only negative connotations come from 19th-century pseudoscience, which mixed up East Asians and people with Downs syndrome.

You just mean barbar(ous|ic|ian), which doesn't derive from any particular ethnicity. It's just a nice latinized form of Greek people making fun of foreigners' speech.

The problem you're going to run into is that any English word referring to groups of people as unenlightened savages is going to have at least 200 years of problematic racist usage. Even the best English word for people overtly hostile to culture, philistine, harkens back to ancient racism we've traditionally considered divinely sanctioned.

Your best woke option is going to be to simply focus on the behavior itself—violent, wanton, reckless, wild, &c.—and not the people as a group. If you don't want to say some cultures are inherently superior, group pejoratives are inherently problematic.

  • I am SUPER confused by most of the answers to this question. Regardless of any historical facts to the contrary, the notion of savage “Mongol hordes” led by Genghis Khan, trampling everything in their path, is a very well-established Western cliché. Captain Codeman’s question didn’t make me think about “Mongolism” even for a second; rather, I thought he was avoiding the connection to modern-day Mongolia. – Ernest Friedman-Hill Apr 27 at 0:04
  • The notion of them being powerful is very well established. The notion of them being noble savages pops up. The notions of them being philistines doesn't and isn't. If you didn't know about that meaning of the word, good on you: it's outdated, wrongheaded, and unpleasant. It is, however, a historical meaning of the word, which has never been synonymous with "philistine" or even "savage", outside of the people of Mongolia itself. As already linked and available elsewhere, if you run into the paywall. – lly Apr 27 at 0:10
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Forget about the nationality. You say that you are thinking of the "Mongol invasion."

So, instead of using Mongol behaviour, refer to the type of activity and use invasive behaviour:

[Merriam-Webster]
1 : tending to spread especially in a quick or aggressive manner
3 : of, relating to, or characterized by military aggression

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When looking for insults, it is often useful to fall back on the two greatest insultants in the English canon: Shakespeare, and Captain Haddock.

In particular, some of Haddock's curses which might work:

  • Abecedarians
  • Bashi-bazouks
  • Blackguards
  • Brigands
  • Cro-Magnons
  • Ostrogoths
  • Ruffians
  • Savages
  • Visigoths
  • Wreckers
  • Several of those refer to ethnicities, albeit ones without active antidefamation groups. – lly Apr 26 at 16:54
  • Abecedarian should have the opposite meaning, as it describes certain educators. – Davo Apr 26 at 17:58
  • @Davo According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the Abecedarians were "a sect of Anabaptists who affected an absolute disdain for all human knowledge". Nothing about them smashing anything, though. – Tom Anderson Apr 28 at 12:30
  • @TomAnderson Thank you, because a definition like the one used in Merriam Webster is the only one with which I was previously familiar. – Davo Apr 29 at 10:52
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If you want to avoid any cultural bias, mindless morons (she checks etymology of "moron"...) Its safe!

moron (n.)
1910, medical Latin, "one of the highest class of feeble-minded persons," from Greek (Attic) mōron, neuter of mōros "foolish, dull, sluggish, stupid," a word of uncertain origin. The former connection with Sanskrit murah "idiotic" (see moratorium) is in doubt. Latin morus "foolish" is a loan-word from Greek.

As for the epithets mongol, and mongy, both are derived from mongoloid which used to be the medical term for those afflicted with Down's Syndrome, mongol later became highly derogatory and it is currently used as an insult to anyone whose behaviour or intelligence is considered subnormal or below average. I would advise not to use it, particularly in the context described by the OP, for that reason alone.

In reference to the genetic defect causing mental retardation (mongolism), by 1899, from the typical facial appearance of those who have it. See Down's Syndrome. Such people were called Mongolian from 1866.

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    ??? “Mongol” most definitely does not come from “mongolism!” – Ernest Friedman-Hill Apr 26 at 12:33
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    In particular, the OED cites Mongol (meaning A member of any of a number of closely related Asiatic peoples now chiefly inhabiting Mongolia; a Mongolian) from 1613 but lists J. L. H. Down's use for the the syndrome that later took his name as 1866. – TripeHound Apr 26 at 13:09
  • @ErnestFriedman-Hill In it's lowercase form, it most certainly does (or, in any case, the related pseudoscientific category of "mongoloid"). – lly Apr 26 at 17:00
  • Ms A, I think Mr Codeman really was focusing more on the violence or anti-intellectualism than simple idiocy. I guess you were just going for alliteration? – lly Apr 26 at 17:24
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    @Tripehound I believe the reason why "Mongoloid" was originally chosen by Down to describe the syndrome was because of the epicanthic fold in the eye surround, a symptom of the condition - which resembles a similar fold, not just in Mongolians but many oriental peoples. – WS2 Apr 26 at 18:09

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