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Rembrandt, Rondtrekkende Boerenfamilie (Itinerant Farming Family, 1650–1654),[n 1] which depicts a family of vagrants (noun sense 2)
The McKay’s bunting (Plectrophenax hyperboreus) is regarded as a vagrant (noun sense 4) in British Columbia in Canada, and in the states of Oregon and Washington in the United States.

Etymology 1[edit]

From Late Middle English vagraunt (person without proper employment; person without a fixed abode, tramp, vagabond) [and other forms],[1] probably from Anglo-Norman vagarant, wakerant, waucrant (vagrant) [and other forms] and Old French walcrant, waucrant (roaming, wandering) [and other forms], perhaps influenced by Latin vagārī, the present active infinitive of vagor (to ramble, stroll about; to roam, rove, wander).[2] Old French walcrant is the present participle of vagrer, wacrer, walcrer (to wander, wander about as a vagabond) [and other forms], from Frankish *walkrōn (to wander about), the frequentative form of *walkōn (to walk; to wander; to stomp, trample; to full (make cloth denser and firmer by soaking, beating and pressing)), from Proto-Germanic *walkōną (to roll about, wallow; to full), *walkaną (to turn, wind; to toss; to roll, roll about; to wend; to walk; to wander; to trample; to full), from Proto-Indo-European *walg-, *walk-, *welgʰ-, *welk-, *wolg- (to turn, twist; to move), ultimately from *welH- (to turn; to wind).

The English word is cognate with Latin valgus (bandy-legged, bow-legged), Middle Dutch walken (to knead; to full), Old English wealcan (to roll), ġewealcan (to go; to walk about), Old High German walchan, walkan (to move up and down; to press together; to full; to walk; to wander), Old Norse valka (to wander). See further at walk.


vagrant (plural vagrants)

  1. (dated) A person who wanders from place to place; a nomad, a wanderer.
    Synonyms: itinerant, rover; see also Thesaurus:wanderer
  2. (specifically) A person without settled employment or habitation who usually supports himself or herself by begging or some dishonest means; a tramp, a vagabond.
    Synonyms: drifter, hobo; see also Thesaurus:vagabond
    Every morning before work, I see that poor vagrant around the neighbourhood begging for food.
    • 1729, W[illiam] Nelson, “Vagrants”, in The Office and Authority of a Justice of Peace: [], 10th edition, [London]: [] E[lizabeth] and R[ichard] Nutt, and R. Gosling, (assigns of Edward Sayer, Esq;) for J. Walthoe, [], →OCLC, page 708:
      If it appear to the Juſtice by the confeſſion of the Vagrant, or by the Oath of one Witneſs, that he had no lawful Settlement ſince his Birth, and that he hath committed Acts of Vagrancy, or hath been a common Beggar, or Vagrant, for two Years laſt paſt, [...] then inſtead of puniſhing him, the Juſtice, or Juſtices, may bind him Apprentice for ſeven Years to the Perſon who apprehends him, or to any other Perſon who will receive him, and employ him in Great Britain, or in any of his Majeſty's Plantations.
    • 1785, William Cowper, “Book III. The Garden.”, in The Task, a Poem, [], London: [] J[oseph] Johnson;  [], →OCLC, page 133:
      'Tis the cruel gripe / That lean hard-handed poverty inflicts, / The hope of better things, the chance to win, / The wiſh to ſhine, the thirſt to be amuſed, / That at the found of Winter's hoary wing, / Unpeople all our counties, of ſuch herds, / Of flutt'ring, loit'ring, cringing, begging, looſe / And wanton vagrants, as make London, vaſt / And boundleſs as it is, a crowded coop.
    • 1839, “Description of the Depredations Committed, and Habits of the Migratory Depredators”, in First Report of the Commissioners Appointed to Inquire as to the Best Means of Establishing an Efficient Constabulary Force in the Counties of England and Wales, London: Charles Knight and Co., [], →OCLC, § 19, page 21:
      The most prominent body of delinquents in the rural districts are vagrants, and these vagrants appear to consist of two classes: first, the habitual depradators, house-breakers, horse-stealers, and common thieves; secondly, of vagrants, properly so called, who seek alms as mendicants.
    • [1842], An Exposure of the Various Impositions Daily Practised, by Vagrants of Every Description, Birmingham, Warwickshire: [] J. Taylor, [], →OCLC, page 4:
      Among vagrants are to be found thieves of every description, as well as a numerous host of the rankest impostors. [...] A great number amongst these daring impostors have been brought up vagrants from their infancy, and such as are bred up to it are naturally the most clever in acts of thieving, or in imposing upon the public.
  3. Vagrans egista, a widely distributed Asian butterfly of the family Nymphalidae.
  4. (biology, especially ornithology) An animal, typically a bird, found outside its species' usual range.
Derived terms[edit]
Related terms[edit]

Etymology 2[edit]

From Middle English vagraunt, vagaraunt (having no proper employment; having a tendency to go astray or wander; wayward), from Anglo-Norman vagarant, wakerant, waucrant (vagrant) and Old French walcrant, waucrant (roaming, wandering);[3] see further at etymology 1.


vagrant (comparative more vagrant, superlative most vagrant)

  1. Wandering from place to place, particularly when without any settled employment or habitation.
    Synonyms: itinerant, nomadic, peripatetic, vagabond, (obsolete) vagrom, vague
    a vagrant beggar
    • 1656 September 27, An Act against Vagrants, and VVandring, Idle, Dissolute Persons. At the Parliament Begun at Westminster the 17th Day of September, An. Dom. 1656 [Julian calendar], London: [] Hen[ry] Hills and John Field, [], published 1657, →OCLC, page 2:
      [A]ll and every idle, looſe and diſſolute perſon and perſons, which from and after the firſt day of July, One thouſand ſix hundred fifty ſeven, ſhall be found and taken within the Commonwealth of England, vagrant and wandring from his or their uſual place of living or abode, and ſhall not have ſuch good and ſufficient cauſe or buſineſs for ſuch his or their travelling or wandring, [...] ſhall be proceeded againſt and puniſhed as Rogues, Vagabonds and Sturdy Beggers within the ſaid Statute, [...]
  2. Of or pertaining to a vagabond or vagrant, or a person fond of wandering.
  3. (figurative) Moving without a certain direction; roving, wandering; also, erratic, unsettled.
    Synonyms: inconstant, straggling, straying, vagabond, (obsolete) vagrom, vague, wayward


  1. ^ From the collection of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.


  1. ^ vagraunt, n.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  2. ^ vagrant, n. and adj.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 1916; “vagrant, n.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.
  3. ^ vagraunt, adj.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.

Further reading[edit]