The term “savage”



“Savage” (fl. 1750-1900) is a racist term that has been applied to the native peoples of Ireland, the Americas, Africa, Australia and the Pacific. It pictures them as being like wild animals, as less than fully human. The word comes by way of French from the Latin word silvaticus, said of someone who lives in the woods.


Jefferson used it in the Declaration of Independence (1776) when he said of the king:

“He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”

By 1800, it had become one of the stages of history:

  1. savagery
  2. barbarism
  3. civilization

Roughly speaking, savages hunt, barbarians farm and civilizations write the history books.

Used as a noun as “mere description” by:

  • 1598 William Shakespeare
  • 1651 William…

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