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From Middle English churl, cherl, cheorl, from Old English ċeorl (a freeman of the lowest class, a churl, a countryman, husbandman, a hero, husband, man, male person, a man of inferior class, peasant, rustic, commoner, layman), from Proto-Germanic *karilaz (man, elder), from Proto-Indo-European *ǵerh₂- (grown-up, old, mature). Cognate with Scots churl (a churl, a rustic), North Frisian tzierl, tjierl, tsjerl (fellow, man, churl), West Frisian tsjirl (fellow, churl), Dutch kerel (man, churl, fellow), Low German kerl, kerel, kirl (man, fellow, churl), German Kerl (man, fellow), Swedish karl (man, fellow), Icelandic karl (a male), Polish karzeł (a small man). The deprecating sense develops by 1300. The variant carl, carle (without derogatory connotation) is a loan from the Old Norse cognate. See carl, carle.



churl (plural churls)

  1. A rustic; a countryman or labourer; a free peasant (as opposed to a serf).
    • Emerson
      Your rank is all reversed; let men of cloth / Bow to the stalwart churls in overalls.
  2. A rough, surly, ill-bred person; a boor.
    • Sir Philip Sidney
      A churl's courtesy rarely comes, but either for gain or falsehood.
  3. A selfish miser; an illiberal person; a niggard.
    • Drayton
      like to some rich churl hoarding up his pelf
  4. (Theodism) a freedman, ranked below a thane but above a thrall


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