Beggar - Encyclopedia


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BEGGAR, one who begs, particularly one who gains his living by asking the charitable contributions of others. The word, with the verbal form "to beg," in Middle English beggen, is of obscure history. The words appear first in English in the 13th century, and were early connected with "bag," with reference to the receptacle for alms carried by the beggars. The most probable derivation of the word, and that now generally accepted, is that it is a corruption of the name of the lay communities known as Beguines and Beghards, which, shortly after their establishment, followed the friars in the practice of mendicancy (see Beguines). It has been suggested, however, that the origin of "beg" and "beggars" is to be found in a rare Old English word, bedecian, of the same meaning, which is apparently connected with the Gothic bidjan, cf. German betteln; but between the occurrence of bedecian at the end of the 9th century and the appearance of "beggar" and "beg" in the 13th, there is a blank, and no explanation can be given of the great change in form. For the English law relating to begging and its history, see Charity, Poor Law and Vagrancy.

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