Word of the Week (151): BEZONIAN (probability 10830), by David Sutton

BEZONIAN (or BESONIAN) is a Shakespearean word for a beggar: 'Great men oft die by vile bezonians'. It derives from the Italian bisogno, need, and has an Italian variant BESOGNIO.

There are a good many other words for types of beggar. A BLUEGOWN was one of a former class of licensed beggars in Scotland, also known as a GABERLUNZIE. CLOCHARD is a French word for a beggar or tramp, as is PALLIARD, which comes from French paille, straw, from a vagabond's habit of sleeping on straw in barns (not to be confused with a PAILLARD, which is a thin slice of grilled meat).

Another old word for beggar is MUMPER; compare 'mumping-day', St Thomas's Day, 21 December, when the poor used to go around begging corn, money, etc. A DUMMERER was a beggar who pretended to be deaf and dumb to elicit sympathy. A WHIPJACK was a whining beggar who pretended to be a sailor, while a RUFFLER was a riotous, swaggering beggar (less interestingly, it also means an attachment on a sewing machine).

A RANDIE was a violent beggar, especially a female one. A THIGGER was a beggar who lived by 'thigging and sorning', extortionate begging and sponging. Yiddish gives us SCHNORRER (or SHNORRER), one who schnorrs, that is, begs in such a way as to make the giver feel in some way beholden.

And let us end with a mention of CLAPDISH (or CLACKDISH), a wooden dish carried by beggars, with a moveable lid which they clacked to attract attention.


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