Daily Archives: April 18, 2023


He said that he would recreate the park for recreation, but you’re wise to be of two minds on that – he was always doing mental double bookkeeping. He has broken faith, abandoned the trust that has been placed in him. But if he thinks his victory is accomplished, he has another think coming – it is he who will in the end admit defeat and retreat, the recreant!

We don’t see this word recreant much these days, though there would be ample opportunities to use it if we did. No doubt part of the problem is that it looks so much like recreation or recreate. But a recreant is more “wreck” than “parks and rec.” However, though its sense has nothing to do with recreation, the two have a curious detail in common: both have gained a second sense over time.

A moment’s reflection might suffice for the second sense of recreation. Of course it’s the same word as re-creation, ‘create anew’; what happened was that it was applied to taking refreshment – i.e., food and similar, which re-freshes and also re-stores (which is where restaurant came from, by the way: restoring, but French) and so re-creates – and from that it extended and shifted to pastimes of leisure and pleasure.

For recreant, however, we should first establish the earlier sense. It comes, like the other words we’re looking at today, from Old French, but this creant has to do not with creation but with credo (Latin) and croire (Old French): ‘believe, have faith, think’. Recreant was first of all an adjective or noun for someone who would, in a battle situation, yield to second thoughts, see things in a new light, and, in particular, acknowledge defeat (“Run away! Run away!”). In short, as of Medieval times, recreant was a word for a coward, and was one of the worst things you could call someone.

As of the 1600s, however, and gradually eclipsing the earlier sense, recreant meant that the person had gone back on belief, had broken faith, had become an apostate, had abandoned a sacred trust. It’s in the same vein, but in this case it can be someone who is not merely cowardly but in fact dastardly, deliberately treacherous, not just breaking their word from weakness or inconstancy but never having intended to keep it in the first place. Someone you should always think twice about trusting.

As I said, we could still use this word. We do still occasionally use its sibling miscreant. But, for better or for worse, we at least have a well-developed lexicon of alternative terms for those who lie, cheat, and steal. And you’d better believe we use them, and not just recreationally.