Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Andy asked about the origin of bachelor’s degree, then wondered how that is connected to bachelor, the unmarried male. A young lad was originally involved in both.

There is some uncertainty about the origin of bachelor, the unmarried male. There is conjecture that it is related to the Latin word meaning cow pasture, and thus designated a young male who worked on a cattle farm. One of its early extensions was a young novice knight. That led to the speculation that it was related to a Latin word for stick (baculum), since a novice knight would practice Swordplay 101 with a stick, not a real sword. Eventually, bachelor transmuted into a junior member of an organization, then to an unmarried man.

Bachelor’s degree is probably related to baccalaureate, a student with a post-secondary first degree. It is said to come from bacca lauri. a wreath made from laurel leaves and berries. In ancient times, a wreath was placed on the head of someone to be honored. Such a person was a victor, whether in an athletic competition, a poetry slam, or a military campaign.

There is a connection to “resting on one’s laurels,” meaning coasting on past victories without current effort. “Poet laureate” is also connected.

SIDEBAR: History of the Laurel Wreath

Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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