Word of the Day: Bachelor, and a note on peerage

December 23, 2006

Today’s word is “bachelor.” In modern American usage, this word most commonly denotes an unmarried male. The origin of the term is far more interesting.

The word originally refers to a knight who is either too young or has too few vassals to fly his own colors, and therefore follows the banner of another. [cf. a1300 Cursor M. 8541 He was a borli bachelere, In al {th}at werld had he na pere.]

This definition later gives rise to: Knight Bachelor, a knight of the lowest but most ancient order; the full title of a gentleman who has been knighted

According to “Titles & Forms of Address, 17th edition”, a Knight Bachelor is designated “Sir William Justice”, with both the Christian and Family names given. In formal documents, the word Knight or the abbreviation Kt. is added after the name, so “Sir William Justice, Kt.” But how would you style his name if he is also a companion in another order; which abbreviations would you use? If our knight were a commander in the order of bath, and a knight bachelor, one would expect that his name would be styled “Sir William Justice, K.C.B.” One would be wrong. K.C.B. refers to a Knight Commander in the order of bath, and while our William Justice is a knight and a commander, “he is not a knight in that particular order.”

But why is this the subject of today’s post? One, peerage is hilarious and should be added to America. Two, this book on Forms and Addresses is hilarious. Did you know that the correct way to send a letter to a Rabbis is

“Reverend and dear sir,

I am, Reverand sir,

your obedient servant,”

or, that, in England, “Roman Catholic archbishops and bishops have no claim to territorial titles or to the use of the salutations Your Grace or My Lord”?

Lastly, there is a far more immediate and practical reason to bring this up. Last year my friend Douche-bag (U.S. slang, a general term of disparagement, esp. for an unattractive or boring person;) Bryan (who, btw, is neither unattractive or boring) decided to turn over a new leaf and become a better person. While this didn’t actually happen, we decided to call Bryan “Kind and Considerate Bryan” to recognize this intended turn in form. Occasionally people would call Bryan “K.C.B.” However, as we have just seen, the use of this acronym is very specific, and should only be applied to Bryan with extreme care, until such day as he is inaugurated as a Knight Commander in the Most Honourable Order of the Bath. So, while Bryan may be referred to in speech as K.C.B., please make sure never to append this acronym to his name, lest someone be confused, and consider Bryan deserving of the word “Sir.” No such problems exist for the acronym D.B.B., and the term may be used freely.

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