Printable Version
Pronunciation: ræs-kêl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. (Affectionate) A playfully cheeky or mischievous person, a naughty person. 2. A disreputable person, a rogue who isn't quite a scoundrel.

Notes: Today's Good Word originally referred to a real scoundrel, but over the years its meaning has softened until today it is used mostly in jest. This is witnessed by the host of playful derivations it sports: rascaldry and rascality are abstract nouns expressing the character of a rascal, and rascaldom refers to the collective world of rascals. It has even accumulated a fanciful extension that lends it a more high-falutin' ring: rapscallion.

In Play: You may use this word on children you love who are behaving rascally: "OK, you little rascals, if you don't calm down, there won't be any dessert for you after dinner." I associate rascals with simple naughtiness: "I don't know how well the honeymoon will go: that rascal Tommy Rott opened a can of sardines on the engine block of the newlyweds' car."

Word History: English adopted this word from Middle French rescaille, rasqualle "rabble, the unwashed masses" from Old French rasque or rasche "mud; scabies". This word most likely arose from an unattested verb rasquer "to scrape", cognate with the Spanish verb rasgar "to rip, tear; to strum" that underlies rasgado "strumming". The French and Spanish verbs should have derived from an unattested Vulgar (street) Latin verb rasicare "to scrape". We also need this verb to explain the noun rash, borrowed from Old French rasche "scabies". Rasicare would have emerged from the past participle of Classical Latin rasus, the past participle of radere "to scrape, scratch, rub". This attested verb goes back to PIE red-/rod- "to scratch, gnaw", which also developed into rodent and rasp. (Ah, that rascal Jackie Strauss is at it again: fetching this fetchingly Good Word for us today.)

Dr. Goodword,

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