Printable Version
Pronunciation: væg-ê-bahnd Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, Adjective

Meaning: A wanderer, vagrant, itinerant with no permanent home.

Notes: I don't hear this word as much as I did in my youth, perhaps because the vagrant life is no longer with us. Even the homeless have a more or less stable place to sleep each night; a vagabond doesn't. The word seems to have left us before we could decide whether the vagabond life is vagabondage or vagabondism. Somehow I find the latter less suggestive.

In Play: The most popular song of the world's first crooner, Rudy Vallee, was 'I'm Just a Vagabond Lover', a song about a gypsy in love. It appeared in his film, Vagabond Lover, released in 1929, a time when many gypsies and hobos roamed the US. Although today's word is a noun, it is often used as an adjective: "Billy brings home every vagabond dog that wanders through the neighborhood."

Word History: English borrowed this word from French without changing it. French inherited it from Latin vagabundus "wandering, strolling", made up of vagari "to wander" plus the gerundive suffix -bundus "-ing". We aren't sure where vagari came from but we do know where it went from Latin. English adopted it directly, as vagary "an erratic, unpredictable move". Vagari was derived from vagus "wandering". This word went on to become vague in French, where English borrowed it, too. Its meaning apparently originated in a sense of wandering off course. (It is time to abandon this vagabond narrative and focus on thanking Sara Goldman for suggesting today's unfortunately fading Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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