Printable Version
Pronunciation: -bêr-lên-zee Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A strolling beggar or mendicant. 2. A beadsman (a licensed beggar in Scotland).

Notes: This word is a lexical orphan, without any accompanying adjective or verb. Americans may have never encountered this word, since it does not occur in any US dictionary that I know of. However, it is alive and well in Scotland, where to my surprise I heard it spoken in 2011.

In Play: This rather arcane yet living word refers to a wandering beggar, as opposed to one who settles down: "Candy Cain's neighborhood is still occasionally visited by a wandering gaberlunzie." However, metaphorical applications will probably be more useful: "If you lose your job when you are over 50 years old, you are likely to become a wandering gaberlunzie, begging for any position you can find."

Word History: All we know about this funny word's past is that it seems to be made up of gaber and lunzie. Now, lunzie is the traditional English spelling of the Scottish word lunyie "loin". The first part of the word suggests gaberdine, a smock or coarse cloak worn by medieval pilgrims (never made of gabardine). It is only interesting because blue-gown was another name for gaberlunzies in the Middle Ages—all suggestive, but inconclusive. If gaberlunzie came from the notion of loins girded in a gaberdine, the displacement of a garment usually worn on the shoulders needs an explanation. I have none.

Dr. Goodword,

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