Definition: Ethnicity

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ethnic + -ity, from Middle English ethnik, from Latin ethnicus (pagan, heathen), from Ancient Greek ἐθνικός or ethnikós (of or for a nation, heathen), from ἔθνος or éthnos (a company, later a people or nation, heathens).


ethnicity (countable and uncountable, plural ethnicities)

  1. The common characteristics of a group of people, especially regarding ancestry, culture, language, or national experiences.
  2. An ethnic group.
  3. (euphemistic) Race; common ancestry.

Usage notes

In common use, ethnicity is used as a euphemism for the sensitive term race, but with identical meaning: group ancestry and physical characteristics, such as skin color, as in “ethnic Chinese.” In careful use, it refers to any common characteristic or identity, particularly linguistic, national, regional, or religious groups, and can cut across race, such as Hispanic/Latino; or be a subgroup of a racial group, as in German Texan, Chinese Indonesians, Nuyorican (New York Puerto Rican), etc.

Related terms


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