So far so good. Ethnos is the Greek for "nation", and ethnic costume is national costume. But already ethnic has acquired its own overtones. In the United States (and increasingly in Britain) it can mean quaint, bizarre or "other" - in brief, foreign. It has lost its neutral stance. In this sense it has gone back to its roots. An ethnikos in ancient Greece meant a national, but also a heathen. Ta ethne is used for Gentiles in the Greek New Testament.
However, it is only in the past four years or so that ethnic has really gone downhill. "Ethnic cleansing" was well defined in the Boston Globe in July 1992 as "a term first used just over a year ago by a Serb paramilitary [which] has become the most popular euphemism for terrorism and atrocities in Yugoslavia", but its application has since become general, putting ethnic down there in the dirt with the nastier connotations of racial.
Nicholas BagnallReuse content