Bohemian

By Deane Barker

“Bohemia” was an actual place – it was the western end of the current Czech Republic, though it’s not technically named this anymore.

The word “Bohemian” has come to refer to a carefree, counter-cultural, often traveling lifestyle.

This usage comes from a French reference to the Romani people of “gypsies” of Europe. These were itinerant people who the French believed (perhaps incorrectly) hailed from Bohemia.

Why I Looked It Up

I’ve heard the word in the cultural context for years, and I remember a band from the 80s called “Edie Brickell & New Bohemians.”

But in a book about Europe before World War I, I encountered the word in its geographical and ethnic sense – the Bohemians were referred to as a specific group of people, rather than a lifestyle choice.

I wanted to know how the word jumped from a geographical or ethnic reference to a cultural reference.

Postscript

Added on

In season 3 of Jack Ryan, much of the plot takes place in the Czech Republic. Several scenes are labeled as happening in “Bohemia” or “Rural Bohemia.”

Postscript

Added on

I had a conversation with an industry colleague from the Czech Republic. I asked him if Bohemia was a specific area of just a region.

Hi Deane, the Czech Republic consists of western half (Bohemia) and eastern half (Moravia). So yes, Bohemia is a region. But people may sometime use it to refer to the whole country…

Does silesia still exist?

Yes, it’s kinda third region north to Moravia. But it’s minor, so I didn’t bother to mention it :)

Do the regions have their own elected leaders and governments, or are they just named areas?

Not at this level. Politically, the country has some ten regions that are subsets of these three. Each region has its leader and administration.

The takeaway I got is that Bohemia is a region, like “the midwest.” And just like the Midwest, it has no formal leaders, but its subdivisions (the states that make up the Midwest), each have leaders. So Bohemia is a group of states, essentially.

Postscript

Added on

An entry of the newsletter “Noted” had this information:

Is “Bohemia…dead,” as the landlord in Rent claims? Is Bohemia even possible anymore? The real Bohemia – as its own self-governing realm – crumbled long ago. It was a kingdom in the Holy Roman Empire and survived as part of the Hapsburg empire. Today, Bohemia is subsumed within the Czech Republic.