Wordsmith.org: the magic of words


About | Media | Search | Contact  


Today's Word

Yesterday's Word



Email this


Pronunciation Sound Clip RealAudio

Have you ever seen someone chasing chickens around a coop, the birds running in all directions, clucking, flailing their wings? If so, you can understand why men who rounded up debtors were called catchpoles (literally, chicken-chasers) in the old days.

The down-on-their-lucks who were unfortunate enough to be caught were thrown into a debtors' prison, with sentences often disproportionate to the amount of their debts. Charles Dickens's father ended up in such a prison, which led to little Charlie's having to work ten hours a day in a boot-polish factory.

Thankfully, those catchpoles are a thing of the past. Today we might have a credit analyst or a data-mining expert instead to weed out potential defaulters in the first place.

With the passage of time, professions of the past fade away into history books and new ones take their place. These days it's not unusual to find titles such as Chief Privacy Officer or Blogger-in-Chief on corporate payrolls, professions which were unheard of just a few years back.

This week we'll look at a few unusual professions, some of which now exist only as surnames or historical curiosities.

catchpole or catchpoll

(KACH-pol) noun

A sheriff's officer who made arrests for failure to pay a debt.

[From Middle English cacchepol, from Anglo-French cachepole (chicken chaser). From Latin captare (to chase) + pol (chicken), from pullus (chick). Ultimately from the Indo-European root pau- (few, little) that is also the source of few, foal, filly, pony, poor, pauper, and poco.]

"'Personal debt remains the single biggest issue that concerned Scots bring to their ... provision,' said Liz Catchpole, managing director of Liberata Life."
To Spend or Not to Spend? Sunday Herald (London, UK); Jan 26, 2003.


Not being able to govern events, I govern myself. -Michel de Montaigne, essayist (1533-1592)

We need your help

Help us continue to spread the magic of words to readers everywhere


Subscriber Services
Awards | Stats | Links | Privacy Policy
Contribute | Advertise

© 1994-2024 Wordsmith