Printable Version
Pronunciation: chêrl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A boor, lout, clod, yahoo. 2. A peasant.

Notes: Today's Good Word, though rare today, has had a splendid run through the English language (see Word History). Along the way, it has spun off a few interesting derivations. The quality of a churl is churlhood or churlishness. You might have noticed the adjective churlish underlying this noun; it is probably the most frequent form of this word and the one you are most likely familiar with.

In Play: This word has a hint of archaism about it, so use it with care: "Morty is such a churl: he just told Matt Tremony that he took Matt's fiance out last night." It is used almost exclusively in reference to men: "Hardy Belcher behaves like a churl at the table; he even holds his fork churlishly."

Word History: We inherited today's Good Word from ceorl "freeman of the lowest class". Ceorl comes from Old Germanic *karilaz "old man". Finnish borrowed the Germanic word and it survives almost unchanged today as karilas "old man". The Old High German equivalent, karal "man, lover, husband", became Kerl "fellow, guy", and the name Karl in Modern German. Along the way, the name lost its negative connotation and was adopted into northern French as Charles. Charles the Great, or Charlemagne, added further luster to the name. This explains why the Slavic languages borrowed the name as their general word for "king"—kralj in Serbian and korol' in Russian. A remarkable lexical journey, n'est pas? (No churl is Mark J. Schulte for he is the one who suggested today's wayfaring Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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