Bachelor - Etymology and Historical Meanings

Etymology and Historical Meanings

The word is from Anglo-Norman bacheler (later suffixal change to bachelier; cf. escolier "student", from earlier escoler), "knight bachelor", a young squire in training, ultimately from Medieval Latin baccalāris (cf. Provençal bacalar, Tuscan bacalaro "squire"), a very low ranking vassal or farm hand. The Old French term crossed into English around 1300, referring to one belonging to the lowest stage of knighthood. Knights bachelor were either poor vassals who could not afford to take the field under their own banner, or knights too young to support the responsibility and dignity of knights banneret. From the 14th century, the term was also used for a junior member of a guild (otherwise known as "yeomen") or university; hence, an ecclesiastic of an inferior grade, for example, a young monk or even recently appointed canon (Severtius, de episcopis Lugdunen-sibus, p. 377, in du Cange).

"Bachelor" can also refer to those holding a "bachelor's degree" from a university (or a four-year college, in the American system of higher education). In this sense the word baccalarius or baccalaureus first appears at the University of Paris in the 13th century, in the system of degrees established under the auspices of Pope Gregory IX, as applied to scholars still in statu pupillari. Thus there were two classes of baccalarii: the baccalarii cursores, theological candidates passed for admission to the divinity course; and the baccalarii dispositi, who, having completed this course, were entitled to proceed to the higher degrees. The term baccalaureus is a pun combining the prosaic baccalarius with bacca lauri' "laurel berry"—according to the American Heritage Dictionary, "bacca" is the Old Irish word for "farmer" + laureus, "laurel berry," the idea being that a "baccalaureate" had farmed (cultivated) his mind.

The sense of "unmarried man" dates to 1385. The feminine bachelorette is from 1935, replacing earlier bachelor-girl. In 19th century American slang to bach was used as a verb meaning "to live as an unmarried man".

In certain Gulf Arab countries, "bachelor" can refer to men who are single as well as immigrant men married to a spouse residing in their country of origin (due to the high added cost of sponsoring a spouse onsite), and a colloquial term "executive bachelor" is also used in rental and sharing accommodation advertisements to indicate availability to white-collar bachelors in particular.

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