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scalawag

Printable Version Pronunciation: skæ-lê-wæg Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. (Offensive) A white Southerner who supported the Reconstruction after the Civil War. 2. (Slang) A reprobate, an untrustworthy person. 3. (Slang) A mischievous person, a jokester, a practical joker.

Notes: Scalawag is a playful lexical toy today, but it started its life as a serious slur against Southerners who sided with the Federal Government (sound familiar?) after the Civil War. Since it was slang, it was seldom written, so we still have trouble with its spelling. American dictionaries already accept scallawag, scalliwag, and scallywag, since the last two pronunciations are common. We believe our spelling above is the preferred one today.

In Play: Emerging from the Deep South, today's Good Word came north designating real bad guys: "Back in '09 (aught-nine) the scalawags on Wall Street almost sent us into another Depression." Today, however, it is a playful word we can even pin on kids: "Come back here, you little scalawag, and clean up your room before you go out to play!"

Word History: This purely American lexical concoction emerged after the Civil War in the US as a slur against those who stooped to helping the Federal Government's attempts at reconstructing the South. No one knows where it originated, but most speculation focuses on Scotland. A farm servant in Scotland was once called a scallag. Also one of the Shetland Islands, home of the famous shaggy ponies, is known as Scalloway. Our word could have resulted from the merging of these two words. However, it looks and feels like a compound of scala and wag "a jokester". English has several pejorative words beginning with SC, like scoundrel and scandal that might have combined with wag to give the same result. (Today's Good Word came from that wag of a scalawag Bill Guy, whom we now thank graciously.)

Dr. Goodword, alphaDictionary.com

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