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23 May 2011

Monday's word - CAD

Not the hero of your average romantic novel - but he might be the villain. 
 My source of wisdom on all wordy things, Michael Quinion, has this to say: 

"A man who behaves dishonourably, especially towards a woman...

Cad is the classic British contemptuous epithet of the nineteenth century....

Its history is as weird as one might like. The word started life as cadet, either a military trainee or a member of a younger branch of a family. That developed into caddie, now solely a golfer’s bag carrier, but in the eighteenth century any lad or man who hung about in the hope of getting casual work as an errand-boy, messenger or odd-job man. Both cadet and caddie were shortened to cad. Early on — for reasons unknown — it had the sense of an unbooked passenger who had been picked up by the driver of a horse-drawn coach for personal profit. By the early 1830s, it had come to mean the conductor of one of those new-fangled London omnibuses, the man who rode inside to take the fares....

Might the job have been one that was taken as casual employment by caddies? My references don’t say. In 1895, George Augustus Sala commented in London Up to Date: “An omnibus conductor, nowadays, would, I suppose, were the epithet of ‘cad’ applied to him, resent the appellation as a scandalous insult; and, indeed, ‘cad’ has come to be considered a term of contempt, now extended to any mean, vulgar fellow of whatever social rank he may be.”

The shift seems to have happened at the university of Oxford. Lads from the town who hung about colleges in the hope of casual work of the caddie type were called cads by the undergraduates. It became a contemptuous way to describe townsmen and by about 1840 it had achieved its full flowering as a term for a man whose behaviour was unacceptable."

So if you're writing a Victorian romance, remember the cad, he might be just the character you need to show up your hero's uncaddish qualities. What do you think?

*World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion 2011. All rights reserved The  original post can be found at:   http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-cad3.htm