Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Cad, bounder, rake, heel & blackguard

The word cad is a good example. Interestingly, its history is similar to that of the word 'snob'. Originally 'cadet', this was applied to servants in the 18th Century, before universities used it to refer to the boys from the town. The meaning then drifted to mean someone from the lower classes who attempts to secure relationships with well-bred women.

A bounder is someone similar, but the term, from the late 19th Century, may be slightly less derogatory. This 'would-be stylish person' is 'beyond the bounds' of acceptability. Rotter is another word from the same era.

A rake is not quite the same thing. This is generally applied to those who act with debauchery within the upper social circles. The Rake's Progress is a well-known series of paintings by William Hogarth, completed in 1734, which chronicle the decline of a young debauched spendthrift.

Calling someone a heel or a blackguard is tantamount to calling them a criminal. 'Heel' is 20th Century American slang, presumably in the sense of the heel of a shoe being low to the ground. 'Blackguard' is 18th Century and may derive from the black livery of servants.


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