blæ-gê(r)d • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A scoundrel, a villain, a rogue, a ruffian, a dastardly knave, a miscreant or, to put it another way, a real sleazeball.
Notes: The spelling and pronunciation of today's Good Word are sharply disjointed, so be careful of the pronunciation above! Our British cousins, from whom we inherited the pronunciation of this word, often overlook the middles of words (compare Worcestershire [wu-stÍr-shir] and forecastle, also spelled fo'c's'le). It was they who reduced St. Clair to Sinclair, too. Now, we have blackguard and all its kin, blackguardly, the adjective, and blackguardry, the stuff of which blackguards are made, as the blackguardry of blackguardly behavior—all pronounced with a silent CK!
In Play: Here is a lovely old name for knaves and dastards that is much more expressive than the vulgarities that often slip from our lips when we become angry: "The blackguard pulled the chair out from under me just as I was sitting down and broke the disk with my presentation that I was carrying in my back pocket!" Unfortunately, you will meet blackguards at home as well as at work: "Phil Anders told me that he loved me so I introduced him to my family. Now the blackguard is going out with my sister!"
Word History: The Old English word for "guard" was weard. The French liked this word so much that they decided to use it themselves, even though there was no W in French at the time. The closest sound to W was GU, pronounced then [gw]. So Old French acquired this word as guarder "to guard". (Time passes; attitudes change.) After the Norman Invasions our ancestors took a fancy to the French word, since weard had by that time become ward. So we borrowed our own word back from the French as guard. We will have to come back to black some other day. Just remember that the BL in black are the same consonants we see in Russian belyi "white". (We are very happy that Larry Brady, the Stargazer of the Agora and bane to all blackguards, is always on guard for fascinating words like today's very good one.)
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