: 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."

Word History


Old English — more at churl

First Known Use

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined above

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


Dictionary Entries Near ceorl

Cite this Entry

“Ceorl.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ceorl. Accessed 7 Dec. 2023.

More from Merriam-Webster on ceorl

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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