Though these days the term wordmonger refers to "a writer or speaker who uses language pretentiously or carelessly," please join me in proposing a new meaning. A fishmonger appreciates and promotes fish, therefore, a wordmonger does the same for words.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

More Bad Boys

More Bad Boys

Last week’s entry on hooligans, hoodlums & thugs doesn’t begin to account for all the terms we use for our bad boys, so here are three more, all from Old French: rascal, miscreant, & villain.

The term rascal comes from the early 1500s, from a word meaning outcast, rabble, or the lowest class. Many etymologists suggest that the original term comes from an older form which was the grandmother of the term rash, meaning mud, filth, scab or dregs. Those early fifteenth century rascals really had it bad. Since the late 1500s, the term has meant dishonest, unprincipled, &/or lazy, which may be negative, but at least it doesn’t involve nasty skin conditions.

A miscreant, on the other hand, is lacking in spiritual understanding (or so suggest those applying the label). Miscreant comes form mes- meaning wrong & -creant meaning believe, defined originally in English as infidel, unbelieving, or heretic. Early on in its life as a French word, it simply meant heathen. Today in English, miscreant has the broader meaning, evil or immoral.

Villain, like rascal, was originally a term used to define someone of the lower class, someone base, low-born or rustic. The word villain is related to villa, or country house (which, interestingly, now carries a high class tone). Though starting out meaning inhabitant of a farm, the term morphed into meaning peasant, churl, boor, clown, knave or scoundrel. It wasn’t until 1822 that villain was associated specifically with the bad boys of literature.

So, my few & trusty followers, please consider commenting on the class warfare reflected by these etymologies, or offer thoughts about these three coming from Old French (though last week’s hoodlum, hooligan and thug had more widespread roots). Also, could you suggest some other synonyms for rascals, miscreants & villains?

My thanks go out to this week’s sources, Hugh Rawson’s book Wicked Words,,, & the OED.

1 comment:

  1. I find it a little unsettling that you, my friend, are such an expert on the dark side of society. But I find it even more unsettling that words can turn on us 180 degrees to mean just the opposite of what they used to.

    I guess I shouldn't be so surprised. In just my lifetime "bad" became good, "sick" became great, and "off the hook" is no longer out of trouble but rather really really fantastic.

    Words! So Interesting.