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Sunday, 7 November 2010

The meaning of 'Goth'

How many times have you heard the word "Goth" flung at some random black-clad person on the street? It's a word that most people seem to have heard, but do you know what it actually means (other than 'those freaky people in black') or where it came from?

The original Goths were a Germanic tribe of barbarians that lived in Northern Europe from about AD 300-600 (see, Ma, blogging IS educational...). In 410 they invaded 'civilised' Rome and laid waste to it, which was thought to be so terrible that the word 'Gothic' came to mean 'barbaric'. So for something to be called Gothic, it no longer needed to actually have anything to do with the Goth tribe (probably the reason why I have never felt the slightest urge to start pillaging from my neighbours. Honest.).

Between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries, and once the original Goths were long since dead, a new style of architecture was created. These buildings were light and airy, ornately decorated with ribbed vaults and pointed arches. But the Classical style was currently in fashion, and so the most beautiful architecture of the Middle Ages was dubbed 'Gothic' (which, of course, still meant 'barbaric').

Then in the nineteenth century, the Romantic Movement caused writers to create vampires, werewolves, ghost stories - all those classic horror movie staples. These stories and novels were often set in Gothic buildings and thereby this new kind of literature was termed (you guessed it) 'Gothic literature'. (Fun fact: the first ever Gothic novel was The Castle of Otranto, written by Horace Walpole in 1764.)

Moving forward again to the early 1890s when the motion picture camera was invented and the film industry began. Gothic novels made popular films, and in a few decades there were no end of ghosts and ghouls parading across the screen.

Then in the late 1970s post-punk was spawned, and shortly after earned itself the label 'Gothic rock'. The media nicknamed its fans 'Goths', and on the whole the black-clad masses found it amusing to accept the label. Thus, a new subculture was born (not that I'm being pretentious).

Listening to: No Time for Fighting - Tenek

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