Taken from visigoth, a pre-medieval European tribe famous for pillaging and raping, used to describe church architecture, specifically ugly gargoyles and arches with a high central point.

Later used to describe Victorian horror novels and more recently a type of eighties rock music.

On the whole, used to describe anything cool which is dark, brooding and powerful.

The Gothic horror genre was late eighteenth-century, from the works of writers such as Horace Walpole (in his The Castle of Otranto, 1764), Matthew "Monk" Lewis in his The Monk, William Beckford (in his Vathek), and Mrs Radcliffe (notably her The Mysteries of Udolpho). This genre of haunted abbeys and wicked scheming was vigorously mocked by comic writers such as Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey and Thomas Love Peacock in Nightmare Abbey, both published almost at the same time.

Webster's example of the Gothic typeface has been lost in the transfer to e-Webster, but is in any case incomplete. Gothic means either of two typefaces: (i) the ornate mediaeval one also called Black Letter or Old English or Fraktur; and (ii) the square-cut sans-serif one also called Grotesque and formerly stone letter. The term is still used for Grotesque in America, and has rather dropped out of use in Britain.

The Gothic language is one of the earliest Germanic languages recorded. (A few runic inscriptions in very early Norse exist before it.) Much of the New Testament survives, the work of bishop Ulfilas (Gothic name Wulfila), who translated almost all the Bible into Gothic in the mid 300s.

The Goths might have originated in Scandinavia and passed through the island of Gotland off Sweden before beginning their wide migrations across Europe. It is in some ways slightly closer to Norse than to the more southerly Germanic languages such as German and English; but the dialectal divisions in Proto-Germanic are still disputed. The two Gothic peoples were the Ostrogoths and Visigoths, which look as if they mean East-Goths and West-Goths, but it is not completely certain that they do.

It was written in an alphabet invented by Ulfilas out of Greek, Latin, and runes. It contains symbols for TH, KW, and HW, and Ulfilas used the Greek habit of writing GG to indicate NG. The long I vowel was written EI, another influence from Greek. The groups AI and AU present problems: they arose from several different sources in older Germanic, sometimes long E and O, in other cases diphthongs. Traditionally philologists treated them separately, but they were probably both monophthongs by the time Ulfilas was writing.

It is much more archaic grammatically than other recorded Germanic languages (except those very earliest runes), preserving much of the Proto-Germanic inflexion intact. The o-class masculine ending is -s, as in fisks 'fish'. This comes from Proto-Germanic -az, corresponding to Latin -us and Greek -os. The only other language to keep this ending was Old Norse, as -r (modern Icelandic -ur, earliest runes -R with a different letter).

Here is a sample: Jah usgaggadin imma in wig, duatrinnands ains jah knussjands baþ ina qiþands: laisari þiuþeiga, hwa taujau ei libainais aiweinons arbja wairþau?
Iþ is qaþ du imma: hwa mik qiþis þiuþeigana? ni hwashun þiuþeigs, alja ains guþ.
(Mark 10:17-18)

The numerals one to ten were ains, twai, þrija, fidwor, fimf, saihs, sibun, ahtau, niun, taihun.

A few words of Gothic were recorded in Crimea around 1560; the language must have died out not long after.

The standard work is Joseph Wright's Grammar of the Gothic Language from around 1900, but still in print with revisions and a must for students. If you're interested in Germanic languages you will also like a new book, Old English and Its Closest Relatives: A Survey of the Earliest Germanic Languages by Orrin Robinson. Or for a complete scanned version of Wright, among other resources see


You've come to the part of the road your car can't handle.  Perhaps you should have brought something with 4-wheel drive, not some gargantuan beast of a Volkswagen with as many people in it as you can fit.  But that wouldn't be nearly as much fun.

If you want to go farther you have to hitch a ride through Scoffield Pass.  You're worried about hitching, of course, even out here where the people are nice.  Most assholes don't make it past the unpaved road.  Perhaps later in the week you'll catch a ride, after you've worked up the nerve.  For now you park your ungainly car and set up camp in the shadow of Gothic, an ornate mountain that fits its name, that looks like some gigantic hand ripped the spine out of some animal and cast it in rock.  Perhaps there is some snow on the peaks even though it is summer.

The sunrise on Gothic is incredible, all pinks and reds staining the rock from top to bottom, leaking color onto the bare rock above the treeline.  There's no one else around.  The people you came with are still asleep, will still be asleep until it is fully light.  Even the forest isn't quite awake.  So you just stand, unselfconscious, struck, and watch.

Later there is no way you will be able to explain.

I.  II.  III.  IV.

There is a distinct difference between the terms "Goth" (noun) and "gothic" (adjective), even without me being too anal about it. A person can be referred to as "a Goth", and a dress can be described as being "gothic". I prefer the idea of using adjectives to describe oneself, as the term "gothic" is much less limiting than defining yourself as merely a Goth. That seems very two-dimensional and boring. Now that we have got that settled, I will collate a nifty little assortment of everything gothic, a metanode of sorts.

Gothic books
The classics

Vampire, fantasy, horror, sci-fi novels

Gothic films

Gothic clothing and style
  • anything black obviously (white or any dark colour like deep red are also popular but less common.)
  • silver jewelry
  • pale skin (there are many reasons for this preference; some Goths want that sort of undead look; or they want to embody the Victorian aesthetic that says pale skin is a sign of nobility; or because tanning causes skin cancer. Mostly though, Goths view paleness as prettier than being tan, whether or not they have a definitive reason why.)
  • dyed hair (Black, platinum blonde, red, or purple are very common.)
  • bad makeup: [black and white; white foundation, black lipstick (although most stick to deep reds and plums), black eyeliner
  • thin, plucked eyebrows or shaven eyebrows (drawn on).
  • bondage and fetishwear; leather, PVC, latex, rubber, vinyl and bondage gear, corsets
  • crushed velvet or regular velvet
  • beatnik poet shirts; those white ones with a few ruffles around the cuff, the collar, and the front.
  • chokers, dog collars with spikes, velvet ribbons tied around the neck, etc.
  • pentacles
  • lingerie that shows (garters, teddy, bustier, slip, camisole)
  • capes
  • opera length gloves, either satin or latex (shorter length gloves as well, usually vinyl)
  • crucifixes (Christian symbolism)
  • fishnet stockings
  • black and white horizontal striped stockings like the Wicked Witch of the West
  • chains
  • spikes/studs
  • tattoos and piercings, depending on the person.
  • pointy toed shoes, buckle boots, high heels, combat boots or Doc Martens
  • a leather jacket (often with designs painted on it), black trenchcoat, black vinyl raincoat-looking jacket, or velvet jacket


There is also an excellent node on gothic music. Go there.
Credit goes to the cute goth Alicia from gothic.org

Mad, bad, and dangerous to know...
Lady Caroline Lamb speaking of Lord Byron

This 1986 cult psychodrama was directed by Ken Russel and revolves around the lurid tale of Mary Shelley's inspiration for Frankenstein which purportedly happened on June 16th, 1816 at Byron's estate Villa Diodata off the shores of Lake Geneva. Amidst the splendor and excess of this world where Byron is both host and predator, our Romantics tell ghost stories and play hide-and-go-seek in a sexually-charged laudanum dosed frenzy complete with fever-dream madness. The depiction of the tangled relationships of our aesthetes in attendance plays on themes of incest, free love, obsession, sado-masochism, drugs and deep-seated phobias. The line between creative inspiration and madness is danced over repeatedly.

In attendance are Lord Byron, Percy Bysse Shelley, Claire Clairmont (Mary Shelley's half-sister, mother of Byron's daughter Allegra), Mary Shelley and Doctor Polidori (physician, author and great uncle to Dante Gabriel Rosetti).

The film is pure kitsch with its heavy surrealism. Nightmarish manifestations based on their phobias trip out the guests and we see everything from mechanical stripping belly dancers and orgies to stigmata and ravishing crouching demons... Lord Byron is the erotically dark ringmaster and he appears to be orchestrating these events for the pleasure and torment of his guests. Mary has issues with her stillborn daughter and mother dying in her birth which led to her manifestation of Frankenstein. Percy has a reoccurring water/death connection, some manner of prediction of his death by drowning as a result of a boating accident. Doctor Polidori is obsessed with leeches; he goes on to write The Vampyre.

Visually, this film has Russel's trademark lush viscosity. The villa, the storm, the clothing and the indulgent lifestyle of these intellectual and cultural elite are all very very tasty.

You can either take this movie seriously, appreciate its kitsch, or both. I tended towards the side of appreciating the kitsch, myself... Good parts? Cheesy, over-done nightmares, Gabriel Byrne as Byron (perfect!) Julian Sands naked in the rain on the roof and the well-done sexual tension between Percy and Lord Byron. Bad parts? Claire is rather clingy and annoying and Dr. Polidori I could have done without entirely. I suppose your reaction to this movie will depend on where you lie on the Goth scale...

Rated: R
Director: Ken Russell (also of Tommy)
Natasha Richardson - Mary Shelley 
Gabriel Byrne - Lord Byron
Julian Sands -Percy Shelley
Myriam Cyr - Clair Clairmont
Timothy Spall - Dr. Polidori
Screenplay: Stephen Volk 
Music: Thomas Dolby
Location: England 
Running Time: 87 minutes


The word Gothic has a history at least two millennia long. During this period, it has described the Germanic peoples best known for their role in the fall of the Roman Empire, medieval architecture, artistic and musical styles and genres, and a late twentieth century subculture. Gothic is also an international word, present in many languages. Its development has involved both innovative usages and their spread across Europe and the United States.

The word Goth itself is much older than English. Its origin is the Proto-Germanic root Gut, which has the literal meaning of “one who pours out.” The meaning of this word as the name of a people is obscure, however. If the Goths were originally Scandinavian, as their great king Theodoric said they were, the word may come from the name of the river Götaälv, which “pours out” into the North Sea. Alternately, it may be a testimony to the virility of the Goths—or at least the male Goths—as those who “pour out” semen. Or perhaps it may indicate that the Goths followed Gaut, a god of war.

Greek and Roman writers first used the word around 20 A.D. in the form Gutones, and Ptolemy wrote of the Guti in the mid second century. The Greeks and Romans of late antiquity used the term Goth for a number of peoples with similar languages and cultures, even though they often had more specific names for many of these groups as well. They traced the migrations of these tribes to the shores of the Black Sea in southeastern Europe.

Medieval scholars described three tribes of Goths: the Ostrogoths, the Visigoths, and the Gepids. Each of these names has its own peculiarity. Gepid was derived from gepanta—“lazy and sluggish ones”—a derogatory name given by the other Goths. The Ostrogoths were once the “Goths of the rising sun,” and, since the sun rises in the east, became known as “east Goths,” or Ostrogoths. The Visigoths were called the Vesi, or “the good,” until Cassiodorus, a Roman serving the Gothic kings, termed them Visigoths so that their name paralleled Ostrogoths.

In the eighth century, Bede wrote about the “Gothorum” in his Latin Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Later, seventeenth century scholars reading a ninth century Anglo-Saxon translation of Bede’s History would identify the “Gothi” as the Jutes and thus associate the Goths with England; the Dictionarium Saxino-Latino-Anglicum, compiled by William Somner in 1649, translates the Anglo-Saxon word Gothi as “Jutes, Getae, Gothes.” In King Alfred’s ninth century Anglo-Saxon, the word took the singular form Gota. This is evidenced by Alfred’s translation from Latin of BoethiusConsolation of Philosophy, in which he writes that “unrim manes se Gota fremede”—“the Goth perpetrated an excess of wickedness.” In the fourteenth century, Chaucer too produced a translation of the Consolation and spelled Goth with a th; it was spelled both with a t alone and with a th through the seventeenth century.

Though Goth was used as a noun throughout the medieval period, it was not until the sixteenth century that adjectival forms of the word began appearing in written English. Among these were the short-lived sixteenth century form Gothian, the early seventeenth century Gothish, which remained in use through the nineteenth century, and the nineteenth century Gothicky. Gothic, which became the dominant adjectival form, first appeared in English in 1611.

This first use of Gothic in English stuck closely to Goth’s narrow historical meaning; in the translator’s preface to the King James Bible, it was reported that someone had “translated the Scriptures into the Gothicke tongue.” In the middle of the seventeenth century, however, two other usages of the word were introduced into English from continental Europe. One of these was simply a generalization; Gothic was used as a synonym of Germanic, referring to a broader set of people than it had before. (The people to whom Gothic referred varied a great deal over time. Later, in the nineteenth century, the word was associated with the Mozarabs, the Christians of Muslim medieval Spain.) The other new usage had its complex history that had begun in Italy centuries earlier.

The ideas that led to the redefinition of Gothic to refer to an architectural style—and later to other artistic and cultural styles—came out of Renaissance Humanism. In the fourteenth century, Italian humanists such as Petrarch described a three-part history of Europe made up of antiquity, the barbaric “Middle Ages,” and modernity. The humanists argued that Germanic invaders had brought down the Roman Empire, causing Europe’s descent into the medieval period, a tragedy from which Europe was only then recovering. As a result, they hated the Germanic tribes that dominated Europe at the beginning of the Middle Ages, and particularly despised the Goths, with whom they began to associate all that they disliked about the prior millennium.

This attitude led to pejoration of Gothic. Examples of its effect are numerous. Within the literary realm, the humanist and philologist Lorenzo Valla referred to black letter script, which he found clumsy and “monkish,” as “Gothic.” In England, this font came to be known as “Gothic” at the same time as it came to be known as “black letter,” in the mid seventeenth century.

The term Gothic came to refer to medieval architecture—sometimes all medieval architecture, not merely a specific late medieval style as it does now—as a result of passages in Giorgio Vasari’s 1550 Lives of the Architects, Painters, and Sculptors. Vasari was a Florentine artist who became arguably the first art historian and had an immense influence on how those in generations to come would think about art. In his book, Vasari frequently called medieval architecture “German,” as did others of his day. On occasion, however, he instead wrote that such barbaric architecture was the fault of the “Goti,” or Goths.

There are works of another sort that are called German, which differ greatly in ornament and proportion from the antique and the modern. Today they are not employed by distinguished architects but are avoided by them as monstrous and barbarous.… This manner was invented by the Goths, who, after the destruction of the ancient buildings and the dying out of the architects because of the wars, afterwards built—those who survived—edifices in the manner: these men fashioned the vaults with pointed arches of quarter circles, and filled all Italy with these damnable buildings.

Though Vasari wrote in Italian, writers in other languages adopted his idea of a link between the Goths and medieval architecture, and soon used the adjective Gothic to this context, an innovation Vasari himself had not made. In the eighteenth century Gothic underwent another generalization. This one was focused on England, where writers used the word to mean both in bad taste and old-fashioned. In 1734 George Berkeley, for example, described dueling as a “Gothic crime.”

In the same century, however, art historians began to recognize value in Gothicness, and both medieval architecture and Gothicity began to lose their negative connotations. The two unusual nouns in the previous sentence, both of which are nineteenth century coinages describing “the quality of being Gothic,” demonstrate an interest in the Gothic that grew over the next few centuries. In architecture, this interest led to the Gothic Revival. In the fine arts and literature, it was one of several influences that led to Romanticism and especially to the Gothic literature of the nineteenth century.

It was these modern artistic movements that introduced the concept of horror and fascinations with death and religion to the idea of the Gothic. These qualities influenced art and culture throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. For example, when introduced to punk rock music in the late 1970s in England, they produced a subgenre known for a time by the strange name “positive punk” because it did not advocate violence. This music was first referred to as “Gothic” in 1979 and the Goth subculture was somewhat defined by 1983. Like earlier revolutions in the meaning of the word Gothic, its application to a youth subculture in the late twentieth century has murky origins, and debates exist over how Goth music, dress, and culture evolved and how they were named. In this way, the newest usage of the word Goth shares much with its many historical meanings.

Work Cited

  • Tina Waldeier Bizzarro, “Gothic,” in Paul F. Grendler, ed., Encyclopedia of the Renaissance, vol. 3 (New York: Scribner, 1999).
  • Joseph Bosworth and T. Northcote Toller, An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary Based on the Manuscript Collections of the Late Joseph Bosworth (Oxford: Clarendon, 1882).
  • Wayne Dynes, “Concept of Gothic,” in Philip P. Wiener, ed., Dictionary of the History of Ideas: Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas, vol. 2 (New York: Scribner, 1973).
  • Paul Frankl, The Gothic: Literary Sources and Interpretations through Eight Centuries (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton UP, 1960).
  • Louis Grodecki, Gothic Architecture, trans. Mark Paris (New York: Rizzoli, 1985).
  • Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed. (1989 with 1993 additions).
  • Wikipedia, Punk (accessed April 24, 2006).
  • Herwig Wolfram, History of the Goths, trans. Thomas J. Dunlap (Berkeley, Calif.: U of California P, 1987).
  • Pete Scathe, History of Goth (accessed April 24, 2006).

Goth"ic (?), a. [L. Gothicus: cf. F. gothique.]


Pertaining to the Goths; as, Gothic customs; also, rude; barbarous.

2. Arch.

Of or pertaining to a style of architecture with pointed arches, steep roofs, windows large in proportion to the wall spaces, and, generally, great height in proportion to the other dimensions -- prevalent in Western Europe from about 1200 to 1475 a. d. See Illust. of Abacus, and Capital.


© Webster 1913.

Goth"ic, n.


The language of the Goths; especially, the language of that part of the Visigoths who settled in Moesia in the 4th century. See Goth.

⇒ Bishop Ulfilas or Walfila translated most of the Bible into Gothic about the Middle of the 4th century. The portion of this translaton which is preserved is the oldest known literary document in any Teutonic language.


A kind of square-cut type, with no hair lines.

⇒ This is Nonpareil GOTHIC.

3. Arch.

The style described in Gothic, a., 2.


© Webster 1913.

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