- a farm laborer; peasant
- a surly, ill-bred person; boor
- a selfish or mean person
Origin: ME cherl < OE ceorl, peasant, freeman: for IE base see corn
Used by arrangement with John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
- A rude, boorish person. See Synonyms at boor.
- A miserly person.
- a. A ceorl.b. A medieval English peasant.
Origin: Middle English, from Old English ceorl, peasant.Word History: The word churl comes almost unchanged in meaning and pronunciation, though not in spelling, from Old English ceorl, “freeman of the lowest class.” An Anglo-Saxon ceorl had a social position above a slave but below a thegn, “thane.” Ceorl comes from Germanic *karilaz, whose basic meaning is “old man.” In Finnish, which is not a Germanic language, the Germanic word was borrowed and survives almost unchanged as karilas, “old man.” The Old Norse descendant of the Germanic word, karl, means “old man, servant,” and the Old High German equivalent, karal, meaning “man, lover, husband,” has become the name Karl. Middle High German karl, “freeman,” was adopted into northern French as Charles, from which we have the name Charles. The Medieval Latin form Carolus is based on the Old High German karal. The fame of Carolus Magnus, “Charles the Great,” or Charlemagne, added luster to the name Carolus and explains why the Slavic languages borrowed the name as their general word for “king,” korol' in Russian.