Ever encountered an act of vandalism by a bearded barbarian? Unlikely perhaps, but you may have come across some modern instances of anti-social behaviour. Tim Bowen explains how this Word of the week has absolutely nothing to do with the Latin expression for facial hair.

“People in the neighbourhood regularly complain about vandalism and other anti-social behaviour”. Vandalism is defined as ‘the act of deliberately damaging or destroying things, especially public property’ and those who carry out acts of vandalism are known as vandals. Needless to say, the word has strong negative connotations and vandalism is generally regarded as a bad thing.

The term derives from the name of a Germanic tribe that attacked and destroyed Rome in the 5th century AD, and in so doing earned themselves a reputation as a people who deliberately set out to destroy civilised society. The Vandals may have had a slightly less negative self-image, however, as their name is in turn derived from a word meaning to wander so they were ‘the wandering tribe’. Rome was the subject of a series of attacks by wild tribes from northern European, whom the Romans called barbarians. Wrongly assumed by many to be derived from the Latin word barba meaning ‘beard’, barbarian originally meant ‘babbling’ or ‘unintelligible’ and was applied to anyone whose language could not be understood and not just to people who engaged in vandalism and other barbaric behaviour and who may or may not have had beards.