Stories We Like: Novels For Language Lovers
Old English ceorl "peasant, freeman, man without rank," from Proto-Germanic *kerlaz, *karlaz (cf. Old Frisian zerl "man, fellow," Middle Low German kerle, Dutch kerel "freeman of low degree," German Kerl "man, husband," Old Norse karl "old man, man").
It had various meaning in early Middle English, including "man of the common people," "a country man," "husbandman," "free peasant;" by 1300, it meant "bondman, villain," also "fellow of low birth or rude manners." For words for "common man" that acquire an insulting flavor over time, compare boor, villain. In this case, however, the same word also has come to mean "king" in many languages (e.g. Lithuanian karalius, Czech kral, Polish krol) via Charlemagne.
in Isa. 32:5 (R.V. marg., "crafty"), means a deceiver. In 1 Sam. 25:3, the word churlish denotes a man that is coarse and ill-natured, or, as the word literally means, "hard." The same Greek word as used by the LXX. here is found in Matt. 25:24, and there is rendered "hard."
the free peasant who formed the basis of society in Anglo-Saxon England. His free status was marked by his right to bear arms, his attendance at local courts, and his payment of dues directly to the king. His wergild, the sum that his family could accept in place of vengeance if he were killed, was valued at 200 shillings. Nineteenth-century scholars often represented the ceorl as the typical peasant labourer in a kind of Anglo-Saxon democracy. Actually, he was a member of a peasant elite that was gradually extinguished between the 7th and 12th centuries. A few ceorls prospered and attained the rank of thane (a free retainer, or lord, corresponding, after the Norman Conquest, to the position of baron or knight), but most were driven, first by economic pressure and later by the Norman Conquest, into the class of unfree villeins. The word ceorl came to denote a depressed and subject peasant and, by the 14th century, was used as a pejorative.