When the word pariah was first used in the English language in a 1613 volume by Samuel Purchas, it had a very specific definition of "ceremonial drummer". This is connected to the modern meaning because drummers at southern Indian festivals were often of the lowest caste, and the term began to be associated with "untouchables", who were shunned by society as social outcasts. Finally, by the early nineteenth century, pariah came to refer to outcasts of any time, losing association with its Indian roots. Speaking of those roots, the word is believed to come from either Tamil paraiyar (a conjugation of parai, or "drum") or Malayalam parayan (from para, also "drum"). There is no evidence going any further back, but since those languages are Dravidian, it can be assumed that the word has no Indo-European origin.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a sophomore studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, and law.