A word that sounds like a security alarm going off. It may have a reflection of a ground meat sandwich, and may even make one think of a bugler; the beginning echoes a German town and the end the glare of security spotlights; but most of us know it well enough… hopefully not by personal experience. Many people say it with three syllables rather than two, backforming a verb burgle (which does have a sort of jumble and tumble and jiggle and boggle sound of a person going through drawers and jewellery boxes looking for goodies) and then construing this as the agentive derivation of it. But the real story of this word is one as much of gain as of loss. It came in the 16th century from the Anglo-Latin burglator (an easy little pocketing of the to there), which in turn came from burgator – and how that l got there we don’t know; perhaps someone sidled in and, having marked the to for later theft, found when outside again that an instrument had been left behind. As to burgator, it is thought that the burg comes from burgh, “castle or fortification.” A man’s home is his castle, after all. Which is why so many install that most common collocation of of burglar: an alarm.

3 responses to “burglar

  1. I always thought the second element of burglator was derived from the Latin latro.

  2. Sorry, I didn’t finish my comment.
    Burglator = burgh(town)+ latro(thief, brigand) a robber who had adapted his skills to a specific locale; a break ad enter artist.

    • The version without the l antedates the one with. Here’s what the Oxford English Dictionary says on latro in this word:

      “The origin of the intrusive l, in burglator, burglaria, and the corresponding Eng. forms, is not clear; but the notion of Lambarde (1581) and later writers that the ending -lar represents AF. ler-s, laroun (:{em}L. {sm}latro, la{sm}tr{omac}nem) thief, is contrary to the evidence. A ‘burglator’ or ‘burgesour’ was not necessarily a ‘latro’; his object might be something else than plunder.”

      I defer to their counsel — I figure their evidence will beat mine any day.

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