AskDefine | Define Aryan

Dictionary Definition

Aryan adj : of or relating to the former Indo-European people; "Indo-European migrations" [syn: Indo-European, Indo-Aryan]


1 (according to Nazi doctrine) a Caucasian person of Nordic descent (and not a Jew)
2 a member of the prehistoric people who spoke Proto-Indo European [syn: Indo-European]

User Contributed Dictionary



From etyl hi आर्य, from etyl sa sc=Deva, from . Borrowed into English in the 19th century, at first as a term for the Indo-Iranian languages, and later partly extended to the Indo-European languages and peoples. Same Proto-Indo-Iranian root is the ultimate source of the country name Iran.




  1. In the context of "theosophy|Germanic mysticism|nazism": A member of an (alleged) master race comprised of non-Jewish Caucasians, especially those of Nordic or Germanic descent.
    • 1925–26, Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, translation from German to English by James Murphy, 1939
      This short sketch of the changes that take place among those races that are only the depositories of a culture also furnishes a picture of the development and the activity and the disappearance of those who are the true founders of culture on this earth, namely the Aryans themselves.
  2. In the context of "neo-Nazi or white supremacist ideology|informal": A person of Caucasian ethnicity; a white non-Jew.
    • 2001, Robert J. Sternberg, James C. Kaufman, The Evolution of Intelligence, Page 300
      One transmission advantage may have been that espousing Aryan-supremacist and overtly Nazi ideology could have been a roundabout way of announcing, […]
    • 2002, David R. Goldfield, Still Fighting the Civil War: The American South and Southern History, page 263
      The point is not that southern Republicans are edging toward Aryan-supremacist views but that the rhetoric of their campaigns and some of their political […]
  3. A Caucasian racist, often one who is an Aryan in the first sense.
    • 2004, John Lawton, Bluffing Mr. Churchill
      Cal tried to think of words that would convey Wolfgang Stahl to the ears and hands of a woman who’d never seen him and never, until now, had to imagine him.
      ‘Why not . . . why not think of your chap as a type? Tell me what type you’d sort of put him into.’
      ‘Sort of?’
      ‘You know . . . roughly.’
      ‘He’s an Aryan.’
      ‘Ah, one of those, eh? Odd when you think about it. I mean. How did they arrive at blue-eyed blonds as a racial type? Hitler’s short and dark and looks like Charlie Chaplin. Goebbels is short and ugly and looks like a rat. And as for Goering – well is that what Billy Bunter grew up to be?’
  4. An Indo-Iranian.
  5. An Indo-European, a Proto-Indo-European.
    • 1905, Rossiter Johnson, LL.D., chief editor, The Great Events by Famous Historians, volume IV
      We have seen that when the Goths first entered Roman territory they were driven on by a vast migration of the Asiatic Huns. These wild and hideous tribes then […] appeared upon the Rhine, and in enormous numbers penetrated Gaul. No people had yet understood them, none had even checked their career. The white races seemed helpless against this "yellow peril", this "Scourge of God", as Attila was called. Goths and Romans and all the varied tribes which were ranging in perturbed whirl through unhappy Gaul laid aside their lesser enmities and met in common cause against this terrible invader. The battle of Châlons, 451, was the most tremendous struggle in which Turanian was ever matched against Aryan, the one huge bid of the stagnant, unprogressive races, for earth’s mastery.
  6. In the context of "ethnography|obsolete": A subdivision of the Caucasian race, which comprised the Aryans, the Semites, and the Hamites, or the accompanying linguistic subdivision.
    • 1892, Charles Morris, The Aryan Race: Its Origins and Its Achievements
      [The] Caucasian race includes two sub-races, — the Xantho-chroic and Melanochroic of Huxley. The seat of this race is Europe, northern Africa, and southwestern Asia, its linguistic division being into Aryans, Semites, and Hamites.
    • 1900, Frank Moore Colby, Outlines of General History
      The surest principle of classification is based on language, but the results must be tested by a study of the physical characteristics of the various races. According to this method of classification, the races of the world may be divided as follows: Aryan, Semitic, Hamitic, Turanian, Negroid. The name Caucasian is generally applied to the first three divisions, — Aryans, Semites, and Hamites. Aryan. — This includes the ancient Hindus […] the Persians, Greeks, Italians, Celts, Teutons, and Slavs.


in Nazism: a member of an alleged master race comprised of non-Jewish Caucasians
  • Arabic: (’áriyy)
  • Dutch: Ariër
  • Finnish: arjalainen
  • German: Arier
  • Italian: ariano
  • Portuguese: ariano
used primarily by neo-Nazis: a white
  • Arabic: (’áriyy)
  • Danish: arier
  • Dutch: Ariër
  • Finnish: arjalainen
  • French: Arien
  • German: Arier
  • Italian: ariano
  • Portuguese: ariano
  • Spanish: ario
US, euphemistic: a Caucasian racist
  • Dutch: Ariër
rare: an Indo-Iranian
  • Arabic: (’ariyy)
  • Danish: arier
  • Dutch: Ariër, Indo-Iraan
  • Finnish: indoiranilainen
  • French: Arien
  • German: Arier
  • Swedish: arier
rare: a Proto-Indo-European
  • Arabic: (’ariyy)
  • Danish: arier
  • Dutch: Ariër, Indo-Iraan, Indo-Germaan, Indo-Europeaan, Proto-Indo-Europeaan
  • Finnish: indoiranilainen
  • French: Arien
  • German: Arier
  • Italian: ario
  • Swedish: arier
obsolete: in 19th century ethnography, a subdivision of the Caucasian race
  • Danish: arier
  • Dutch: Ariër
  • Finnish: arjalainen
  • French: Arien
  • German: Arier
  • Italian: ario
  • Swedish: arier

Usage notes

  • In popular conception, the Aryan racial type is marked by having blond hair and blue eyes. These are not criteria of any of the technical racial definitions.
  • Using the technical meanings of the term ‘Aryan’ (Indo-Iranian, Indo-European, Proto-Indo-European, or a subdivision of the Caucasian race) could be misleading and dangerous, as the Nazi and neo-Nazi ideological usages, with their connotations, are the only widely understood meanings of the term in modern English.
  • Neo-Nazi users generally do not intend the term to be pejorative, however, it can be taken as such outside of the neo-Nazi community, because of the term’s heavy use by and association with the Nazis; the implication is that non-Aryans are inferior. The word is highly-charged, because this thinking is widely considered to have lead to the Holocaust.
  • Due to the fact that the racial senses of the term are, outside of academic contexts and historical or ethnographic discussions, used primarily by racists of Caucasian ethnicity, the term is sometimes used by non-Nazi speakers as a euphemism for ‘White racist’ (see the talk page for an example scenario).
  • Today, the term ‘Aryan’ is used primarily by neo-Nazis and white supremacists, or in discussing the ideology and racial theories of Nazism, a mid-twentieth-century racist political movement that considered Aryans (in the first sense) to be the master race, neo-Nazism, and other white supremacist movements and organizations. The term is therefore strongly associated with such ideologies, to the point that it is sometimes euphemistically used to refer to or describe them. Because of this, and because the term carries a strong emotional charge, the technical senses are perhaps best avoided outside of academic contexts where they are certain to be understood, and the racial senses connected with Nazism are perhaps best avoided altogether.


  1. Pertaining, in racial theories, to the (alleged) Aryan master race.
    • 1925–26, Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, translation from German to English by James Murphy, 1939
      Look at the ravages from which our people are suffering daily as a result of being contaminated with Jewish blood. Bear in mind the fact that this poisonous contamination can be eliminated from the national body only after centuries, or perhaps never. Think further of how the process of racial decomposition is debasing and in some cases even destroying the fundamental Aryan qualities of our German people, so that our cultural creativeness as a nation is gradually becoming impotent and we are running the danger, at least in our great cities, of falling to the level where Southern Italy is to-day.
  2. In the context of "neo-Nazi or white supremacist ideology|informal": Pertaining to the Caucasian ethnicity.
    • 2003, Kathleen M. Blee, Inside Organized Racism: Women in the Hate Movement, page 172
      Neo-Nazis use Nordic religions to fashion a more noble Aryan past and a modern Pan-Aryan community. Symbols from and references to ancient spirituality pepper neo-Nazi literature.
  3. Pertaining to Caucasian racists or their organisations, theories, etc.
    • 2006, Margaret Kleffner Nydell, Understanding Arabs: A Guide for Modern Times, Intercultural Press, 1931930252, page 106
    • Imagine our outrage if the foreign press depicted Aryan groups as representing mainstream Christianity.
  4. Of or pertaining to Indo-Iranian peoples, cultures, and languages.
    • 1872-79: John Beames, A Comparative Grammar of the Modern Aryan Languages of India: to wit, Hindi, Panjabi, Sindhi, Gujarati, Marathi, Oriya and Bangall
      [W]''ith all due deference to the opinions of scholars, it may be urged that much of this elaborate development arose in an age when the speech of the people had wandered very far away from the classical type. Even if it were not so, even if there ever were a time when the Aryan peasant used poly-syllabic desideratives, and was familiar with multiform aorists, it is clear that he began to satisfy himself with a simpler system at a very distant epoch, for the range of forms in Pali and the other Prakrits is far narrower than in classical Sanskrit.
  5. Of or pertaining to Indo-European peoples, cultures and languages.
    • 1905, Rossiter Johnson, LL.D., chief editor, The Great Events by Famous Historians, volume IV''
      Who were these Teutons? Rome knew them only vaguely as wild tribes dwelling in the gloom of the great forest wilderness. In reality they were but the vanguard of vast races of human beings who through ages had been slowly populating all Eastern Europe and Northern Asia. Beyond the Teutons were other Aryans, the Slavs. Beyond these were vague non-Aryan races like the Huns. […]


pertaining to the (alleged) Aryan master race
  • Dutch: Arisch
  • Finnish: arjalainen
  • German: arisch
  • Italian: ariano
  • Portuguese: ariano
  • Spanish: ario, aria
used primarily by neo-Nazis: pertaining to the Caucasian race
  • Danish: arisk
  • Dutch: Arisch
  • Finnish: arjalainen
  • French: arien
  • German: arisch
  • Italian: ariano
  • Portuguese: ariano
  • Swedish: arisk
US, euphemistic: pertaining to Caucasian racists
  • Dutch: Arisch
of or pertaining to Indo-European or Aryan people, culture and languages

Extensive Definition

Aryan is an English word derived from the Sanskrit "Ārya" meaning "noble" or "honorable". The Avestan cognate is "Airya" and the Old Persian equivalent is "Ariya". It is widely held to have been used as an ethnic self-designation of the Proto-Indo-Iranians. Since, in the 19th century, the Indo-Iranians were the most ancient known speakers of Indo-European languages, the word Aryan was adopted to refer not only to the Indo-Iranian people, but also to Indo-European speakers as a whole.
In Europe, the concept of an Aryan race became influential in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as linguists and ethnologists argued that speakers of these Indo-European languages constitute a distinctive race, descended from an ancient people, who were referred to as the "primitive Aryans", but are now known as Proto-Indo-Europeans.
In linguistics, Aryan is most often used in the context of the sub-branch of Indo-Iranian languages referred to as Indo-Aryan languages.


Proto-Indo-European (PIE) , a yo-adjective to a root "to assemble skillfully", present in Greek harma "chariot", Greek aristos, (as in "aristocracy"), Latin ars "art", etc. Proto-Indo-Iranian *ar-ta- was a related concept of "properly joined" expressing a religious concept of cosmic order.
The adjective *aryo- was suggested as ascending to Proto-Indo-European times as the self-designation of the speakers of the Proto-Indo-European language itself. It was suggested that other words such as Éire, the Irish name of Ireland, and Ehre (German for "honour") were related to it, but these are now widely regarded as untenable, and while is certainly a well-formed PIE adjective, there is no evidence that it was used as an ethnic self-designation outside the Indo-Iranian branch. In the 1850s Max Müller theorized that the word originated as a denotation of farming populations, since he thought it likely that it was related to the root , meaning "to plow"; thus Aryans would be those who plow. Other 19th century writers, such as Charles Morris, repeated this idea, linking the expansion of PIE speakers to the spread of agriculturalists. Most linguists now consider to be unrelated.
The Proto-Iranian form *Aryāna- appears as Æryānam Väejāh "expanse of the Aryans" in Avestan, in Middle Persian as Ērān, and in Modern Persian as Īrān. Similarly, Northern India was referred to by the tatpurusha Aryavarta "Arya-abode" in ancient times.

Semantics of Sanskrit arya

According to Paul Thieme (1938), the Vedic term arya- in its earliest attestations has a meaning of "stranger", but "stranger" in the sense of "potential guest" as opposed to "barbarian" (mleccha, dasa), taking this to indicate that arya was originally the ethnic self-designation of the Indo-Iranians. Arya directly contrasts with Dasa or Dasyu in the Rigveda (e.g. RV 1.51.8, "Discern thou well Aryas and Dasyus"). This situation is directly comparable to the term Hellene in Ancient Greece. The Middle Indic interjection arē!, rē! "you there!" is derived from the vocative arí! "stranger!".
The Sanskrit lexicon Amarakosha (c. AD 450) defines Arya as "being of a noble family", "having gentle or refined behavior and demeanor", "being well-born and respectable", and "being virtuous, honourable, or righteous". In Hinduism, the religiously initiated Brahmin, Kshatriya and Vaishyas were arya, a title of honor and respect given to certain people for noble behaviour. This word is used by Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Zoroastrians to mean noble or spiritual., for example, Four Noble Truths (Pali: Cattāri ariyasaccāni, Sanskrit: Catvāri āryasatyāni), and Noble Eightfold Path (Pāli: ; Sanskrit: ).


Max Müller and other 19th century linguists theorized that the term *arya was used as the self-description of the Proto-Indo-Europeans, who were often referred to at this time as the "primitive Aryans". By extension, the word came to be used in the West for the Indo-European speaking peoples as a whole. Besides Müller for example H. Chavée in 1867 uses the term in this sense (aryaque), but this never saw frequent use in linguistics, precisely for being reserved for "Indo-Iranian" already. G. I. Ascoli in 1854 used arioeuropeo, viz. a compound "Aryo-European" with the same rationale as "Indo-European", the term now current, which has been in frequent use since the 1830s. Nevertheless, the use of Aryan as a synonym for Indo-European became widespread in non-linguistic and popular usage by the end of the nineteenth century.
Use of "Aryan" for "Indo-European" in academia was obsolete by the 1910s: B. W. Leist in 1888 still titles Alt-Arisches Jus Gentium ("Old Aryan [meaning Indo-European, not Indo-Iranian] Ius Gentium"). P. v. Bradke in 1890 titles Methode und Ergebnisse der arischen (indogermanischen) Altterthumswissenschaft, still using "Aryan", but inserting an explanatory bracket. Otto Schrader in 1918 in his Reallexikon der indogermanischen Altertumskunde under the entry Arier matter-of-factly discusses the Indo-Iranians, without any reference to a possible wider meaning of the term.
According to Michael Witzel in his paper Autochthonous Aryans? The Evidence from Old Indian and Iranian Texts, "the use of the word Arya or Aryan to designate the speakers of all Indo-European (IE) languages or as the designation of a particular race is an aberration of many writers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and should be avoided."


The most probable date for Proto-Indo-Iranian unity is roughly around 2500 BC. In this sense of the word Aryan, the Aryans were an ancient culture preceding both the Vedic and Avestan cultures. Candidates for an archeological identification of this Indo-Iranian culture are the Andronovo and/or Srubnaya Archeological Complexes. India, Anatolia and Central Asia have also been suggested as possible homelands for this culture.
In linguistics, the term Aryan currently may be used to refer to the Indo-Iranian language family. To prevent confusion because of its several meanings, the linguistic term is often avoided today. It has been replaced by the unambiguous terms Proto-Indo-European, Proto-Indo-Iranian, Indo-Iranian, Iranian and Indo-Aryan.
The Proto-Indo-Iranian language evolved into the family of Indo-Iranian languages, of which the oldest-known members are Vedic Sanskrit, Avestan and another Indo-Iranian language, known only from loan-words found in the Mitanni language.


There is evidence of an Indo-Aryan language in Mesopotamia around 1500 BC in the form of loanwords in the Mitanni dialect of Hurrian, the speakers of which, it is speculated, may have once had an Indo-Aryan ruling class. At around the same time, the Indo-Aryans associated with the Vedic civilization, which dates back to the same period. They are sometimes called Vedic Aryans because it is believed that they brought the Vedas to the Indian subcontinent after the Aryans migrated into that region (this theory is contrary to the Out of India Theory). In ancient India, the term Aryavarta, meaning "abode of the Aryans", was used to refer to the northern Indian subcontinent.
Indo-Aryans are spread over most of the northern, eastern, western and central parts of the Indian subcontinent and in the islands of Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Indo-Aryan languages that exist outside the Indian subcontinent include Romani, the language of the Roma people, often known as "Gypsies", Parya, used in Tajikistan, Jataki, used in Ukraine, and Domari which is used in the Middle East.


Since ancient times, Persians have used the term Aryan as a racial designation in an ethnic sense to describe their lineage and their language, and this tradition has continued into the present day amongst modern Iranians . In fact, the name Iran is a cognate of Aryan and means "Land of the Aryans." However, many of these usages are also intelligible if we understand the word Aryan in its sense of "noble" or "Spiritual".
Darius the Great, King of Persia (521–486 BC), in an inscription in Naqsh-e Rustam (near Shiraz in present-day Iran), proclaims: "I am Darius the great King… A Persian, son of a Persian, an Aryan, having Aryan lineage...", although Herodotus claims that it was the Medes who were the Aryans, having changed their name after the arrival of Medea and potentially her son Medus on the Iranian plateau. He also calls his language the "Aryan language," commonly known today as Old Persian. According to the Encyclopedia Iranica, "the same ethnic concept was held in the later centuries" and was associated with "nobility and lordship." (p. 681)
The word has become a technical term in the theologies of Zoroastrianism, but has always been used by Iranians in the ethnic sense as well. In 1967, Iran's Pahlavi dynasty (overthrown in the 1979 Iranian revolution) added the title Āryāmehr "Light of the Aryans" to those of the monarch, known at the time as the Shahanshah (King of Kings).
The term "Airya-shayana" (abode of the Aryans) has also been used in the Avesta referring to all the lands where the Aryans dwell.
"Iranian Glory" (Airyana Khvarenah) occurs in the Avesta 23 times.
The term also remains a frequent element in modern Persian personal names, including Arya and Aryan (boy's and girl's name), Aryana (a common surname), Iran-Dokht (Aryan daughter, a girl's name),Aryanpour (or Aryanpur, a surname), Aryamane, Ary among many others. The terms "Aryan" and "Iranian" are sometimes used interchangeably, as in the Iranian bank chain, Aryan Bank.

Racial connotations

Because of ethnolinguistic arguments about connections between peoples and cultural values, "Aryan" peoples were often considered to be distinct from Semitic peoples. By the end of the nineteenth century "Aryan" was used as a synonym for Indo-European, and this popular usage persists even after some academic authors have condemned a such usage because of its negative connotations derived from the Nazi-era. In linguistics, it is still used in the context of the sub-branch of Indo-Iranians referred to as Indo-Aryans, all though that usage has also been condemned and proposed to be replaced by the term Indic languages.
The Aryan race was a term used in the early 20th century by European racial theorists who believed strongly in the division of humanity into biologically distinct races with differing characteristics. Such writers believed that the Proto-Indo-Europeans constituted a specific race that had expanded across parts of Europe, Iran and small parts of northern India. This usage tends to merge the Sanskrit meaning of "noble" or "elevated" with the idea of distinctive behavioral and ancestral ethnicity marked by language distribution.
From the late 19th century, a number of writers had argued that the Proto-Indo-Europeans had originated in Europe. Their opinion was received critically at first, but was widely accepted by the end of the nineteenth century. By 1905 Hermann Hirt in his Die Indogermanen (Hirt consistently used Indogermanen, not Arier, to refer to the Indo-Europeans) claimed that the scales had tilted in favour of the hypothesis, in particular claiming the plains of northern Germany as the Urheimat (p. 197) and connecting the "blond type" (p. 192) with the core population of the early, "pure" Indo-Europeans. This argument developed in tandem with Nordicism, the theory that the "Nordic race" of fair-haired north Europeans were innately superior to other peoples. The identification of the Proto-Indo-Europeans with the north German Corded Ware culture bolstered this position. This was first proposed by Gustaf Kossinna in 1902, and gained in currency over the following two decades, until V. Gordon Childe who in his 1926 The Aryans: a study of Indo-European origins concluded that "the Nordics' superiority in physique fitted them to be the vehicles of a superior language" (a belief which he later regretted having expressed).
The idea became a matter of national pride in learned circles of Germany, and was taken up by the Nazis. According to Alfred Rosenberg's ideology the "Aryan-Nordic" (arisch-nordisch) or "Nordic-Atlantean" (nordisch-atlantisch) race was thus a master race, at the top of a racial hierarchy, pitted against a "Jewish-Semitic" (jüdisch-semitisch) race, deemed to be a racial threat to Germany's homogeneous Aryan civilization, thus rationalizing Nazi anti-Semitism. Nazism portrayed their interpretation of an "Aryan race" as the only race capable of, or with an interest in, creating and maintaining culture and civilizations, while other races are merely capable of conversion, or destruction of culture. These arguments derived from late nineteenth century racial hierarchies. Some Nazis were also influenced by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky's The Secret Doctrine (1888) where she postulates "Aryans" as the fifth of her "Root Races", dating them to about a million years ago, tracing them to Atlantis, an idea also repeated by Rosenberg, and held as doctrine by the Thule Society. Such theories were used to justify the introduction of the so-called "Aryan laws" by the Nazis, depriving "non-Aryans" of citizenship and employment rights, and prohibiting marriage between Aryans and non-Aryans. Though Mussolini's fascism was not originally characterised by explicit anti-Semitism, he too eventually introduced laws pressed upon him by Hitler, prohibiting mixed-race marriages between "Aryans" and Jews.
Because of historical racist use of Aryan, and especially use of Aryan race in connection with the propaganda of Nazism, the word is sometimes avoided in the West as being tainted, in the same manner as the swastika symbol. Currently, India and Iran are the only countries to use the word Aryan in a demographic denomination. Aryan is also a common male name in India, Afghanistan, and Iran.



  • Paul Thieme, Der Fremdling im Rigveda. Eine Studie über die Bedeutung der Worte ari, arya, aryaman und aarya, Leipzig (1938).
  • Vyacheslav V. Ivanov and Thomas Gamkrelidze, The Early History of Indo-­European Languages, Scientific American, vol. 262, N3, 110­116, March, 1990
  • A. Kammenhuber, "Aryans in the Near East," Haidelberg, 1968

Further reading

  • Vyacheslav V. Ivanov and Thomas Gamkrelidze, The Early History of Indo-­European Languages, Scientific American, vol. 262, N3, 110­116, March, 1990
  • A. Kammenhuber, "Aryans in the Near East," Haidelberg, 1968
  • Arvidsson, Stefan (2006), Aryan Idols: Indo-European Mythology as Ideology and Science, translated by Sonia Wichmann, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.
  • Poliakov, Leon (1974). The Aryan Myth: A History of Racist and Nationalistic Ideas In Europe. Translation of Le mythe aryen, 1971.
Aryan in Arabic: آريون
Aryan in Belarusian: Арыі
Aryan in Czech: Árijové
Aryan in Danish: Arier
Aryan in German: Arier
Aryan in Estonian: Aarjalased
Aryan in Spanish: Arios
Aryan in Esperanto: Arjoj
Aryan in Persian: آریایی
Aryan in French: Aryens
Aryan in Hindi: आर्य
Aryan in Icelandic: Aríi
Aryan in Kannada: ಆರ್ಯರು
Aryan in Malayalam: ആര്യന്‍
Aryan in Malay (macrolanguage): Arya
Aryan in Dutch: Ariërs
Aryan in Japanese: アーリア人
Aryan in Norwegian: Ariere
Aryan in Pushto: اريايي
Aryan in Polish: Ariowie
Aryan in Portuguese: Arianos
Aryan in Romanian: Arian
Aryan in Russian: Арии
Aryan in Sanskrit: आर्य
Aryan in Simple English: Aryan
Aryan in Slovak: Árijci
Aryan in Finnish: Arjalaiset
Aryan in Swedish: Arier
Aryan in Tamil: ஆரியர்
Aryan in Turkish: Aryan
Aryan in Ukrainian: Арії
Aryan in Chinese: 雅利安人
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