In a Word: Scapegrace

May 23, 2011|By John McIntyre, The Baltimore Sun

Each week, The Sun's John McIntyre presents a moderately obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar — another brick to add to the wall of your working vocabulary. This week's word:


Sometimes English, instead of adapting from the Latin or Greek, reverts to its Germanic heritage of fusing words together. Scapegrace combines scape, an archaic variant of escape, with grace, in the theological sense. A scapegrace is literally a person who has escaped the grace of God.

In its milder applications, a scapegrace is mischievous and wayward, especially in references to a child or young person. An adult scapegrace is a reckless sort, or a scoundrel.

The word carries a 19th-century tone, as in this example from Hawthorne's "House of the Seven Gables": "According to this version of the story, Judge Pyncheon, exemplary as we have portrayed him in our narrative, was, in his youth, an apparently irreclaimable scapegrace."

Example: The word can also serve as an adjective: Their scapegrace nephew was sent back to the penitentiary after violating his parole.

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