Word History: The word pariah, which can be used for anyone who is a social outcast, independent of social position, recalls a much more rigid social system, which made only certain people pariahs.
The caste system of India placed pariahs, also known as Untouchables, very low in society.
The word pariah, which we have extended in meaning, came into English from Tamil paaiyar,
the plural of paaiyan, the caste name, which literally means "(hereditary) drummer" and comes from the word paai, the name of a drum used at certain festivals.
The word is first recorded in English in 1613. Its use in English and its extension in meaning probably owe
much to the long period of British rule in India.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.