Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Scamps and Rascals

I am continuing my mid winter exploration of medieval insults persisting to the modern age.  I just feel like it.

But I thought it would be nice to switch over to some affectionate ones.  The sort of thing you would call your spirited child.  Scamp, scalawag, rascal, ragamuffin, that sort of thing.  All nice little words, no?


Scamp.  First used in the 1780s, it was a term that meant "highway robber".  It probably derived from a similar word that meant "to roam" that descended from scamper.  Scamper meant to run away quickly, specifically to run away from a battle field!  You can trace the word backwards through centuries of cowardly soldiers.  The Flemish shampeeren from the 1600s. And on back through the Old French escamper and all the way to Latin ex campo.  The word decamp is closely related.  The delightful word vamoose followed a similar path from the Latin vadare, to go or to walk hastily. Who knew that military deserters had such a rich linguistic heritage?

Scalawag. The earlier use of this word was to describe a disreputable fellow of little importance.  It combines Wag, for a habitual joker, with Skallag a Scottish term for farm servant.  But Skallag itself was derived from Scalloway, one of the Shetland islands, and was a term used for the runty ponies that the Shetlands are still known for.

Rascal. From 12th century French, where rascaille meant rabble or mob. The implication of it being a sudden outburst as well as the dregs and scrapings of society has raised the possibility of a connection with the Latin rasicare, to scrape. This word also gives rise to rash and razor.

Ragamuffin.  Well now, surely you can call your misbehaving little moppit a ragamuffin without giving offense.....can't you? its original 14th century form it meant "demon".  The devil was often depicted as having a shaggy or "ragged" appearance.  The sense of the word as a term for a "dirty, disreputable boy" came along in the 1580s.

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