Posted by: Jack Henry | April 5, 2018

Editor’s Corner: Cavalier

Good morning!

I was scanning through some of the newsletters I get each day, and the word cavalier in the Grammarist email caught my eye. I know what cavalier means, but I thought, “Boy, that looks like the French word for knight (chevalier).” Wondering if there were a connection, I decided to read on. Here are my findings!

From the Grammarist:

Cavalier is a term that has been in use since the 1600s, and has its roots in a political rivalry.

The word cavalier is currently most often used as an adjective to mean without proper care or concern, in a disdainful or dismissive manner. The word cavalier originally meant a horseman, and particularly a loyal follower of the British King Charles I. The term cavalier was used as a kind of insult, insinuating that the Cavaliers were men who were pompous and overbearing. The Cavaliers took back the term as a title of honor and loyalty, the same way that the LGBT community has worked to change the word queer from a slur to a proud appellation. The word cavalier is derived from the Latin word caballarius, meaning horseman. When used to mean the historical followers of Charles I, the term is capitalized as in Cavalier.

Ah ha! So there is definitely a connection in that Latin root caballarius. The Spanish words caballo (horse) and caballero (gentleman) are even closer than the French word chavalier. Of course, I couldn’t just stop there. I thought I’d see what the Online Etymology Dictionary had to say, too.

cavalier (adj.)

"disdainful," by 1817, from earlier sense "easy, offhand" (1650s); originally "gallant, knightly, brave" (1640s), from cavalier (n.) in its Elizabethan senses.

cavalier (n.)

1580s, "a horseman," especially if armed, from Italian cavalliere "mounted soldier, knight; gentleman serving as a lady’s escort," from Late Latin caballarius "horseman," from Vulgar Latin caballus, the common Vulgar Latin word for "horse" (and source of Italian cavallo, French cheval, Spanish caballo, Irish capall, Welsh ceffyl), displacing Latin equus (from PIE root *ekwo-).

In classical Latin caballus was "work horse, pack horse," sometimes, disdainfully, "hack, nag." This and Greek kaballion "workhorse," kaballes "nag" probably are loan-words, perhaps from an Anatolian language. The same source is thought to have yielded Old Church Slavonic kobyla.

The sense was extended in Elizabethan English to "a knight; a courtly gentleman," but also, pejoratively, "a swaggerer." Meaning "Royalist, adherent of Charles I" is from 1641.

And last, but not least, we can’t forget the Chevy Cavalier!

Enjoy your day!

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

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