The Grammarphobia Blog

When “Euro” met “skeptic”

Q: All the news channels reporting on the recent European Parliament elections use the term “Euroskeptic” for a voter who is, well, skeptical of the EU’s value. This is the first time I’ve heard the word. Do you know who coined the term and when?

A: “Euroskeptic” isn’t new. It’s been around since at least as far back as the early 1970s.

The term is spelled “Eurosceptic” in British English, where it originated, and it’s sometimes hyphenated.

The earliest example we’ve been able to find comes from a 1971 issue of the Spectator, which refers to “the Euro-sceptic Chiefs of Staff, and Lords Carrington and Balniel, equally sceptical.”

(It’s impossible to tell whether “Eurosceptic” was really meant to have a hyphen there, since the term comes at the end of a line break and thus requires one.)

The Oxford English Dictionary has this definition for the term:

“A person, esp. a politician, having doubts or reservations regarding the supposed benefits of increasing cooperation between the member states of the European Union (and formerly the European Economic Community).” Also, “an opponent of greater political or economic integration in Europe.”

The OED’s earliest published example is from a 1985 issue of the Times in London: “Cockfield—appointed by Thatcher, ironically, for being a Euro-sceptic—has taken to making visionary statements recently.”

Oxford has this more recent citation, from the October 2004 issue of the journal Politics: “Whatever he does to try belatedly to win them back will be ridiculed by Europhiles and meet with a wall of doubt from Eurosceptics.”

Besides being a noun for a person, the word is also an adjective (as in “a turnout of Euroskeptic voters”). The OED has citations for the adjectival usage, as well as for the noun “Euroskepticism,” dating back to 1990.

We’re seeing a lot more of these words lately in the wake of last month’s elections for the European Parliament, where Euroskeptic parties gained ground against the established parties.

For example, a May 28 editorial in the New York Times noted: “Though the Euroskeptics will be a sizable, if fragmented bloc, the parties most supportive of the union will command almost 70 percent of the 751 seats.”

The widespread use of “Euroskeptic” is really no surprise. In recent decades, “Euro-” has become a popular prefix for referring to things or people associated with or originating in Europe.

Here are a few usages from the OED, along with the dictionary’s earliest examples. (We’ll spell them as they appeared, and we’ll include only words that refer to Europe in general, not to the European Union.)

Words for people: “Euro-anatomist” (a medical scientist, 1961); “Eurobum” (a professional houseguest, 1964); “Eurotrash” (rich European socialites, 1980), and “Euro-intellectual” (2005).

Words for music: “Eurojazz” (1967); “Euro-rock” (1974); “Eurobeat” (1976); “Europop” (1976); “Euro-disco” (1979); “Euro-rap” (1983); “Euro Techno” (1991), and “Euro trance” (2002).

Also, “Europlug” (an electric plug that fits sockets in Europe, 1965); “Euro-arty” (describing a sophisticated audience, 1982); “Euro-English” (the kind spoken by continental Europeans, 1986); “Eurofashion” (1993), and “Euro-chic” (2004).

And of course we must include “Europhobia” (1967) and “Europhobe” (1978), as well as “Europhilia” (1968) and “Europhile” (1971).

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