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Phil·is·tine (fĭlĭ-stēn, fĭ-lĭstĭn, -tēn)
1. A member of a people, perhaps of Aegean origin, who settled ancient Philistia around the 12th century BC.
2. often philistine A person who is smugly indifferent or hostile to art and culture.
1. Of or relating to ancient Philistia.
2. often philistine Relating to or having the attitudes of a philistine: "our plastic, violent culture, with its philistine tastes and hunger for novelty" (Lloyd Rose).

[From Middle English Philistines, Philistines, from Late Latin Philistīnī, from Greek Philistīnoi, from Hebrew Pəlištîm, from Pəlešet, Philistia.]

Word History: The ultimate origin of the Philistines, the inhabitants of the ancient city-states of Philistia (located in what is now the Gaza Strip and the southern Mediterranean coast of Israel), is not known, although some archaeological evidence links them with ancient peoples of the Aegean region and Anatolia. The English name of this people, the Philistines, ultimately comes from Hebrew Pəlištîm, which is in turn derived from Pəlešet, the Hebrew name for Philistia. In fact, the word Palestine, the more recent historical designation for the entire region between Lebanon and Egypt, also derives from the ancient name of Philistia. Strategically located on a trade route from Egypt to Syria, the cities of Philistia formed a loose confederacy important in biblical times, and the Bible depicts the Philistines as engaged in a struggle with the tribes of Israel for ascendancy in the region. The mighty Israelite warrior Samson, for example, fought with the Philistines on several occasions and was betrayed by his Philistine lover, Delilah. During the 1600s, as a result of the negative depiction of the Philistines in the Bible, the word philistine came to be applied figuratively to anyone considered an enemy. However, the modern sense of the word, "uncultured person," stems from the slang of German university students in the 1600s. Students used Philister, the German equivalent of the English word Philistine, to refer to nonstudents and hence uncultured or materialistic people. At a memorial service in 1693 for a student killed during a town-gown quarrel in Jena, for example, a minister preached a sermon from the text "Philister über dir Simson!" ("The Philistines be upon thee, Samson!")the words of Delilah to Samson after she attempted to render him powerless before the Philistines. The German usage was eventually picked up in English in the early 1800s.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2022 by HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.

Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices

    Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:

    Indo-European Roots

    Semitic Roots

    The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.