the world's premier FREE website for learners + teachers of English


Meaning: uncivilized (mostly used to describe non-Western people, culture and civilizations)

For example:

  • I just found this really old book called "The Primitive Tribes of Africa".

  • Our great grandparents thought everyone who wasn't white was "primitive". How racist is that?!

Note: Also "backward" and "undeveloped". For advanced learners: Widely used during the period of Western colonial imperialism to make non-European people and civilizations appear inferior to European people and civilizations. This was necessary in order to create the idea of "bringing civilization to the world", an idea that was used to justify colonization and hide its true purpose; to gain wealth by stealing resources and enslaving or exploiting colonized people. Some historians believe a similar process still occurs, but nowadays it's justified by the idea of "bringing democracy" rather than "bringing civilization".

Quick Quiz:

Who would most 19th-century Europeans have called "primitive"?

a. a Russian dancer

b. an African musician

c. a French criminal

This entry is in the following categories:

Contributor: Matt Errey