Wednesday, May 02, 2007

I'd Rather Be Gallivanting

Sometimes you have to take a real dictionary off the shelf to look up a word, and sometimes it's a word that's been kicking around in your head for a few days. Even though you know it, and think you know it fairly well, you want to look it up. Well, that's what I do sometimes. Maybe that's why I'm in the word-racket.

Not long ago in the Tribune's advice column, the one overseen by Amy Dickinson (who succeeded Ann Landers), a letter-writer used the word gallivant. His old friend, he said, spent his retirement gallivanting around the world, while he, sober fellow that he was, remained working.

Actually, his friend's gallivanting wasn't the focus of his complaint, that was merely mentioned in passing. But the word stood out, and it did signal his disapproval of "roaming about, seeking pleasure; traipsing; gadding." My, what a terrible thing, out traveling around after (presumably) decades of work, when you could be working till you drop dead. Sounds like the letter-writer could use a little gallivanting himself.

The word is fading away, I think, as words do. It's one that I associate with a generation older than myself, and I'm not so young any more. "Traipse" and "gad about" have that faded feeling too. According to my handy American Heritage Dictionary, the origin of gallivant isn't entirely clear: "Perhaps an alteration of 'gallant' " it says -- which has its negative connotations, as in "showy" and positive ones well, as in "courageous." As well as notable usage in "Gallant and Goofus."


At 11:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The word gallivant is derived from the name of Sir Gallivant, identified in some sources as Sir Galahad's younger brother. In the Historia Regnum Britanniae, Sir Gallivant is named as one of King Arthur's knights, and the Morte d'Arthur mentions that he that spent ten years travelling around the country looking for the towel - brought to Britain by that old pack-rat, Joseph of Arimathea - with which Christ washed the Apostles' feet at the Last Supper (See John 13:1-17). Hence the term originally suggested travel for some pious or or worthy purpose. Piety of this sort fell out of favor with the Reformation, however, and the meaning of the term began to shift. By the 17th Century, gallivanting had come to mean - as it still does - idle or self-indulgent travel, or travel simply for amusement. (I can't find the citation just now, but I'm reasonably certain that Christopher Marlowe used the term in its modern sense in The Jew of Malta.) ANK

At 5:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know Amy Dickinson's sister; I could put you in touch and you could start a "bring back the gallivant" movement.


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