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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 developed by 1300. The variant carl, carle (without a derogatory connotation) is a loan from the Old Norse cognate.



churl (plural churls)

  1. A rustic; a countryman or labourer; a free peasant (as opposed to a serf).
    • 1858, Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Adirondacs":
      Your rank is all reversed; let men of cloth
      Bow to the stalwart churls in overalls:
      They are the doctors of the wilderness,
      And we the low-priced laymen.
    • 1859 George Meredith, The Ordeal of Richard Feverel, Chapter 9:
      “A see T’m Baak’ll,” the Bantam recommenced, and again the contortions of a horrible wink were directed at Richard. The boy might well believe this churl was lying, and he did, and was emboldened to exclaim—
      “You never saw Tom Bakewell set fire to that rick!”
  2. A rough, surly, ill-bred person; a boor.
  3. A selfish miser; an illiberal person; a niggard.
    • 1594, Michael Drayton. "The Legend of Miltilda the Fair":
      like to some rich churl hoarding up his pelf []
    • 1597, William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet (Quarto I), [Act V, sc. 3] (Juliet to poison that killed Romeo):
      Ah churle drinke all, and leaue no drop for me.
    • 1609, William Shakespeare, Sonnet 1:
      Within thine own bud buriest they content
      And, tender churl, mak'st waste in niggarding.
    • 1611, King James Version, Isaiah 32:5:
      The vile person shall be no more called liberal, nor the churl said to be bountiful.
    • 1768, Laurence Sterne, A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy, "Calais":
      [] when a few words will rescue misery out of her distress, I hate the man who can be a churl of them.
  4. (Theodism) A freedman, ranked below a thane but above a thrall.

Derived terms[edit]