Word Nerd Wednesday: Blaggard

Alfie Doolittle

I recently watched the 1964 musical My Fair Lady, starring Audrey Hepburn. I’m not a huge fan of musicals, yet I found it delightful. The film is a modern adaptation of Pygmalion, George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 theater production.

For those unfamiliar, My Fair Lady stars Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle, a loud, uncouth young woman selling flowers on the streets of London. Her father, Alfred Doolittle, is quickly revealed to be little more than a drunkard and a hustler. At one point in the film, Professor Higgins, Eliza’s unkind and insulting but determined benefactor, determines at first meeting that Alfie is little more than a *blaggard. I really liked the word, partly for it’s whimsical phonetics, and partly because we seem to be a country being led by many blaggards. I think a definition is in order.

Blaggard: A scoundrel; an unprincipled contemptible person; an untrustworthy person. Usually, only used to refer to a male person.

I’m not particularly keen on the notion of relegating this type of character to one of the male sex, but I assume there is a female equivalent to be found in the language of the time when blaggard was more commonly used. I could not find today’s word in most popular dictionaries. Instead most referred me etymologically to the word blackguard, from the 1530s, which is defined similarly, having been transformed into the word blaggard by both the English and the Irish.

Alfie Doolittle (r), constrained by middle class morality.

One interesting thing about our blaggard Alfie Doolittle was that he was solidly opposed to what he referred to as “middle class morality”. He enjoyed the freedom of being on the lower rungs of society. He had nothing, so no one expected anything of him, leaving him free to do whatsoever he desired. And what he most desired was to drink, carouse, and not be bothered with marrying the mother of his children.

Later, due to a passing joke made at his expense by Professor Higgins, Alfie inherited a tidy sum of money. At once, he felt a responsibility to marry Eliza’s long time “stepmother”, and as the film closes we find Alfie in a tux, swigging booze and chasing women with his last night of freedom. Middle class morality means he needs to do the respectable thing, but not just yet.

Beneath the veneer of the tails and top hat, he’s still a blaggard at heart. With his last night of freedom, he parties the night away, while repeatedly reminding his companions to “get me to the church on time!”

I suspect George Bernard Shaw’s perception of middle class morality was both complex and ironic, with a bit of contempt thrown in besides.

*My browser considers every instance of the word blaggard misspelled. For some reason, I enjoy it when that happens; especially when I know that my word is a legitimate one.

7 thoughts on “Word Nerd Wednesday: Blaggard

  1. Will S. says:

    “I’m not particularly keen on the notion of relegating this type of character to one of the male sex, but I assume there is a female equivalent to be found in the language of the time when blaggard was more commonly used.”

    Blaggardette? Blaggardess? 😉

    Anyway, what a grand old word; I knew ‘blackguard’ but not ‘blaggard’; interesting etymology there. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Elspeth says:

    Yes, I was excited to go looking for the word, its origins, and usage. I actually like ‘blaggard’ much better. Kind of rolls off the tongue and packs a bigger wallop. 😃

    Like

  3. nellperkins says:

    The changing of blackguard into blaggard might be what’s happening with supposedly and supposably. If I’d had money, I’d have gotten a degree in linguistics and I’d be able to explain the theories of why English speakers do these things.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. hearthie says:

    I took one linguistics class and it was SO FUN. Really hard though. But fun. Err. If you like patterns of things it’s super fun…. if you don’t geek over patterns, maybe not so much.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. professorGBFMtm2021 says:

    What about the other b-word?BESPAWLER!It seems every politician& political newsresporter does this on tv all the time!
    P.S.See how my comments have been getting shorter&more to the point lately?
    EXTRAP.S.I have wondered why dos’nt the manosphere use ”DOXY” to describe feral women,but most of us are not in old europe usualy, is maybe the anwser?I having more paperwork&thesis’s to fill out or grade lately,which has kept my time more limited to commenting here!

    Like

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