\ ˈchā-ˌȯrl How to pronounce ceorl (audio) \

Definition of ceorl

: a freeman of the lowest rank in Anglo-Saxon England

Did you know?

In Old English, ceorl referred to freemen who ranked above the servile classes but below the nobility. In this sense, ceorl is now primarily encountered in historical writings where, to this day, it has maintained its Old English spelling. The word also evolved, however, into a form that will be more familiar to most English speakers today. In Middle English, ceorl took on the spelling churl (among others), and with that variant spelling it began to develop disparaging senses by the early 14th century. Churl can still be used to refer to the historical rank of ceorl or as a general term for a medieval peasant, but it is now primarily encountered in the senses of "a rude ill-bred person" or "a stingy morose person."

First Known Use of ceorl

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for ceorl

Old English — more at churl

Learn More About ceorl

Time Traveler for ceorl

Time Traveler

The first known use of ceorl was before the 12th century

See more words from the same century

Listen to Our Podcast About ceorl

Dictionary Entries Near ceorl




See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for ceorl

Cite this Entry

“Ceorl.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 May. 2022.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

More from Merriam-Webster on ceorl Encyclopedia article about ceorl


Test Your Vocabulary

Which Word Does Not Belong?

  • one green toy robot amidst many red toy robots
  • Which of these words does not mean "nonsense"?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!