The word barbarism was originally used by the
Greeks for foreign terms used in their language. ("Barbarism" is related to the word "barbarian"; the
ideophone "bar-bar-bar" was the ancient Greek equivalent of modern English "blah-blah-blah", meant to sound like
gibberish — hence the negative connotation of both barbarian and barbarism).
The earliest use of the word in English to describe inappropriate usage was in the sixteenth century to refer to mixing other languages with Latin or Greek, especially in texts treating Classics.
 By the seventeenth century barbarism had taken on a more general, less precise sense of unsuitable language. In The History of Philosophy, for example, Thomas Stanley declares, "Among the faults of speech is Barbarisme, a phrase not in use with the best persons, and Solecisme, a speech incoherently framed" [
Hybrid words, which combine
affixes or other elements borrowed from multiple languages, were sometimes decried as barbarism. Thus the authors of the Encyclopædia Metropolitana criticized the French word linguistique ("linguistics") as "more than ordinary barbarism, for the Latin substantive lingua is here combined, not merely with one, but with two Greek particles".
 Such mixing is generally considered standard in contemporary English.
Although barbarism has no precise technical definition, the term is still used in non-technical discussions of language use to describe a word or usage as incorrect or nonstandard.
Gallicisms (use of
French words or idioms),
Hispanisms, and so forth in
English can be construed as examples of barbarisms, as can
Anglicisms in other languages.