Top 10 Charming Words for Nasty People

bully, rowdy, ruffian

#1: Ruffian 


a brutal person; bully


“‘You try me too much. A ruffian – a common brawling ruffian – that’s what you have become.'” – Arthur Conan Doyle, The Lost World, 1912

“Tintin always moves (unless he’s been knocked out by some ruffian). Motion is his appeal and the reason Steven Spielberg’s representation rings true.” – Matt Easton, The Michigan Daily, January 4, 2012

About the Word:

Ruffians specialize in roughness, and between the 16th and 18th centuries, they were also synonymous with pimps – men who solicit clients for prostitutes.


#2: Scalawag


a mischievous and often morally corrupt person


“The captain of Company L refused to recognize us; said we were deserters, and traitors, and scalawags; and when he drew rations for Company L from the commissary, he wouldn’t give us any.” – Jack London, The Road, 1907

“When times are good, the public generally prefers a scalawag. Clinton was the perfect president for the ’90s boom years. Warren Harding would have been a great fit with the boom of the ’20s. He drank. He played cards. He snuck out of the White House to go to girlie shows.” – Bill Bonner, The Market Oracle, December 20, 2011

About the Word:

Also spelled scallywag, this term may originally have referred to an animal of very little value. After the Civil War, scalawag came to describe a white Southerner acting in support of reconstruction governments, often in pursuit of private gain; it was used to insult Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind.

The origin of scalawag is unknown, but one theory suggests there’s a link to the Scottish scoloc, a first-born son given to the Church to educate.

knave, ruffian, ielts, learn english#3: Knave 


a tricky deceitful fellow


“A knave, a rascal, an eater of broken meats; a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy worsted-stocking knave …” – William Shakespeare, King Lear, 1605-6

“A pro-Romney political action committee, Restore Our Future, spent more than $4 million ensuring that Iowans couldn’t watch 10 minutes of television without being assaulted by an ad explaining why Gingrich was a scoundrel, a knave, a hack, a goon or – shudder – a closet liberal.” – Eugene Robinson, The Washington Post, January 4, 2012

About the Word:

The Bard was particularly fond of the word knave – it crops up throughout his plays. One of the oldest words in English, knave comes the Old English cnafa, meaning “boy” or “male servant.”


#4: Rapscallion


rascal; an idle worthless person


“The devil fetch ye, ye ragamuffin rapscallions; ye are all asleep. Stop snoring, ye sleepers, and pull.” – Herman Melville, Moby Dick, 1851

“In his personal life [Christopher Hitchens] was no less the ‘rapscallion iconoclast,’ as historian Douglas Brinkley once described him. He left his pregnant first wife for another woman.” – Elaine Woo, Los Angeles Times, December 15, 2011

About the Word:

There are no scallions in rapscallion. Rapscallion is an alteration of rascallion, which is itself an irregular formation of rascal, a term born in an Old French dialect word meaning “to scrape, clean off.”


#5: Reprobate 


a morally corrupt or depraved person


“You are a heartless reprobate, sir; a heartless, thankless, good-for-nothing reprobate. I have done with you. You are my son; that I cannot help – but you shall have no more part or parcel in me as my child, nor I in you as your father.” – Anthony Trollope, Barchester Towers, 1857

“She was den mother to the city’s pale-skinned night crawlers, punks, dudes pushing faux decadence and your garden-variety reprobate, and she has done it in style, with a swagger that can only be earned from experience.” – Brett Callwood, Detroit Metro Times, January 11, 2012

About the Word:

Reprobate comes from the Latin reprobare, meaning “to disapprove” or “to condemn.” The word is frequently used in the King James Version of the Bible to describe someone who understands God’s will but chooses to not follow it.

#6: Cad 


a man who acts with deliberate disregard for another’s feelings or rights


“‘You low cad! You ought to be ducked in the horsepond, you rotter!'” – James Joyce, Ulysses, 1922

“Why are we so wild for [Mad Men’s Don] Draper? By any measure, the character’s a cad. He constantly cheats on his wife. He skips town for weeks and won’t write or call. He doesn’t talk much, and anesthetizes any feelings with copious amounts of booze.” – Katie Baker,, August 17, 2009

About the Word:

One of the few gender-specific terms on this list, cad is a shortening of caddie, a Scottish term for one who waits around for odd jobs. (This sense of the term eventually developed into the golfing sense of caddie.) These days, cad is commonly linked to romantic misbehavior.


#7: Scapegrace 


a reckless unprincipled person; an incorrigible rascal


“He refused ever to work, borrowed money on his father’s credit, which he never returned, passed bad checks; was, in short, an out-and-out good-for-nothing scapegrace.” – Helen Warburton, “Jerry” in The Smart Set, January 1916

“[Graham] Greene, [Pico] Iyer wrote … was ‘a self-styled scapegrace’ who openly confessed in his works to an endless list of ‘treacheries and transgressions’ and stirred compassion in his readers both for his undisguised grief at his own failings and for his efforts to forgive both betrayers and the betrayed.” – Liesl Schillinger, New York Times, December 30, 2011

About the Word:

Scapegrace may come from the notion of escaping (scape meaning “to escape”) the grace of God. However serious that sounds, scapegrace, like scamp, is often used lightheartedly.


#8: Hooligan


a usually young man who does noisy and violent things as part of a group or gang; hoodlum


“When Billy Windsor had mentioned the gangs, he had formed a mental picture of low-browed hooligans, keeping carefully to their own quarter of the town.” – P.G. Wodehouse, Psmith, Journalist, 1915

“A Dutch court sentenced the hooligan who attacked [the] goalkeeper during a cup match … to a six-month prison term Thursday …” – Associated Press, December 29, 2011

About the Word:

This word may be eponymous: Patrick Hooligan was an Irish-born ruffian who attained notoriety (and who died in prison) in London shortly before the turn of the 20th century. It’s still associated with Britain, where “football hooliganism” is sometimes referred to as the “English disease.”


#9: Scamp 


rascal; rogue


“‘Not by my will,’ said Mr. Vincy. ‘I shall have enough to do this year, with an idle scamp of a son, without paying for wedding-clothes.'” – George Eliot, Middlemarch, 1871-2

“British director Guy Ritchie took Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes out of mothballs in 2009, giving him a sarcastic and kinetic update with the help of lovable scamp Robert Downey Jr.” – Matthew Odam, Austin American-Statesman, December 16, 2011

About the Word:

Scamp once functioned as a verb meaning “to roam about idly” (think scamper). The noun we’ve featured here appeared later, and has a more playful overtone than some other words on this list.

vile person, synonym bad, wrods, learn English, vocabulary, writing task

#10: Wretch 


a base, despicable, or vile person; a miserable person


“Amazing grace! How sweet the sound / That saved a wretch like me. / I once was lost, but now am found, / Was blind but now I see.” – John Newton, Amazing Grace, 1779

“This kind of loss is so much part of a cyclist’s life that it even seems pointless to get angry with the miserable wretch who stole it.” – Andrew Gimson, The London Evening Standard, January 10, 2012

About the Word:

Wretch has been part of English about as long as knave. Wretch’s Old English ancestor meant “outcast; exile,” which raises this question: Did our ancestors exile despicable people, or did those they exile become miserable as a result of their expulsion?


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4 responses to “Top 10 Charming Words for Nasty People”

  1. The Story Reading Ape says :

    Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog and commented:
    AUTHORS – In case you ever need them 😀

  2. Annette Rochelle Aben says :

    as we ponder the absence of color in conversation… methinks we have merely closed a blind eye to charming words! thank you for the belly laughs!

  3. Shadow Girl says :

    Reblogged this on Becki's Bloody Book Blog and commented:
    10 Charming Words for Nasty People – originally posted on JustEnglish …

  4. Pumpernickel says :

    There are only two words for nasty people: tarsi hall

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