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Pronounced /ɡælɪˈvænt/Help with pronunciation

It’s a fine word, which hints of galloping about in frolicsome high spirits. The Oxford English Dictionary’s definition, written in an earlier age, suggests it means “to gad about in a showy fashion”.

I’m not at all sure how often people still describe themselves or others as gadding about (it feels very old-fashioned to me) but you do it by going from place to place in search of entertainment or pleasure, usually with a person of the opposite sex. Its origin in an old and obsolete German word gadling for a vagabond points to its disreputable nature.

Gallivanting is much like gadding about, though ideally you should adopt a more ostentatious or indiscreet demeanour. Its antecedents are rather less clear: the experts wave vaguely in the direction of gallant, meaning a dashing man of fashion, a fine gentleman, or a man who pays special attention to women. That’s from the Old French galant, from galer, to make merry.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 10 Jul. 2010

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-gal5.htm
Last modified: 10 July 2010.