AskDefine | Define bachelor

Dictionary Definition



1 a man who has never been married [syn: unmarried man]
2 a knight of the lowest order; could display only a pennon [syn: knight bachelor, bachelor-at-arms] v : lead a bachelor's existence [syn: bach]

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. An unmarried man.
  2. An apartment consisting mainly of one large room which is the living, dining, and bedroom combined. A bachelor apartment.


Derived terms

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Extensive Definition

A bachelor is a man above the age of majority who has never been married (see single). A man who was formerly married is not a bachelor but rather is a divorcé or a widower (except in cases where the marriage was legally annulled, in which case there was legally no marriage—especially if it was never consummated).
The term is sometimes restricted to men who do not have and are not actively seeking a spouse or other personal partner. For example, men who are in a committed relationship with a personal partner (female or male) to whom they are not married are no longer generally considered "bachelors," but neither are they considered married. Thus, a broad grey, unnamed status has emerged between the concepts of "bachelor" and "married man."
During the Victorian Era, the term confirmed bachelor often was used as a euphemism for a gay man and is currently still in use in the United States and Great Britain. In spite of the wider acceptance of gay people and same-sex relationships in recent years there are only little changes in this historic usage. Meanwhile, the term "confirmed bachelor" can also refer to heterosexual men who show no interest in marriage or classes of committed relationships.
Most eligible bachelor is a generic term for a published listing of bachelors considered to be desirable marriage candidates. Usually most eligible bachelor lists are published on an annual basis and present listed men in a ranked order.

Etymology and historical meanings

  • The word is from Old French bacheler "knight bachelor", a young squire in training, ultimately from Latin baccalarius, a vassal farmer.
  • The Old French term crossed into English around 1300, referring to one belonging to the lowest stage of knighthood. Knights bachelor were either poor vassals who could not afford to take the field under their own banner, or knights too young to support the responsibility and dignity of knights banneret.
  • from the 14th century, the term was also used for a junior member of a guild, otherwise known as "yeomen", or university.
  • Hence, an ecclesiastic of an inferior grade, e.g. a young monk or even recently appointed canon (Severtius, de episcopis Lugdunen-sibus, p. 377, in du Cange).
  • Those holding the preliminary degree of a university (or of a four-year college, in the American system of higher education). In this sense the word baccalarius or baccalaureus first appears at the University of Paris in the 13th century, in the system of degrees established under the auspices of Pope Gregory IX, as applied to scholars still in statu pupillari. Thus there were two classes of baccalarii: the baccalarii cursores, i.e. theological candidates passed for admission to the divinity course, and the baccalarii dispositi, who, having completed this course, were entitled to proceed to the higher degrees. The term baccalaureus is a pun combining the prosaic baccalarius with bacca lauri "laurel berry" -- per the American Heritage Dictionary, "bacca" is the Old Irish word for "farmer" + laureus, "laurel berry," the idea being that a "baccalaureate" had farmed (cultivated) his mind.
  • Modernly, in Anglophone academia, the Bachelor's Degree is part of a distinct hierarchical ranking of six degrees. From lowest to highest, they are: Associate's Degree, a two-year degree most typically conferred in the United States by junior and community colleges; Bachelor's Degree, a three-, four- or five-year undergraduate degree conferred by universities and, in the United States, also by senior (four-year) colleges; Master's Degree, the first graduate degree above the baccalaureate; Specialist Degree, a degree that ranks above the Master's but below the Doctorate; Doctoral degree, the highest degree awarded in most fields of study, the doctorate may be a research degree (i.e., Ph.D. or D.Phil) or a professional degree (e.g., J.D./D.Jur., D.Min., Ed.D., M.D., D.M.A./A.Mus.D., etc.); and the Post-Doctoral Degree, which is a doctoral degree that requires the conferee to have previously earned another doctoral degree. For example, the S.J.D./D.J.S. is conferred upon people who already possess the J.D./D.Jur. degree.
  • At Oxford and Cambridge the bachelor can proceed to his mastership by simply retaining his name on the books and paying certain fees; but generally, further studies are necessary. But in no case is the bachelor a full member of the university, meaning that he does not have the right to teach. With the admission of women to universities from the late 19th century, the term in its academic sense could also apply to women.
  • The sense of "unmarried man" dates to 1385. The feminine bachelorette is from 1935, replacing earlier bachelor-girl. In 19th century American slang to bach was used as a verb meaning "to live as an unmarried man".

Penal laws and customs

Bachelors, in the sense of unmarried men, have in many countries been subjected to ridicule and draconian penal laws. At Sparta, citizens who remained unmarried after a certain age suffered various penalties. They were not allowed to witness the gymnastic exercises of the maidens; and during winter they were compelled to march naked round the marketplace, singing a song composed against themselves and expressing the justice of their punishment. The usual respect of the young to the old was not paid to bachelors.
At Athens there was no definite legislation on this matter; but certain minor laws are evidently dictated by a spirit akin to the Spartan doctrine. At Rome, though there appear traces of some earlier legislation in the matter, the first clearly known law is that called the Lex Julia, passed about 18 BC. It does not appear to have ever come into full operation; and in AD 9 it was incorporated with the Lex Papia et Poppaea, the two laws being frequently cited as one, Lex Julia et Papia Poppaea. This law, while restricting marriages between the several classes of the people, laid heavy penalties on unmarried persons, gave certain privileges to those citizens who had several children, and finally imposed lighter penalties on married persons who were childless.
Isolated instances of such penalties occur during the Middle Ages, e.g. by a charter of liberties granted by Matilda I, countess of Nevers, to Auxerre in 1223, an annual tax of five solidi is imposed on any man qui non habet uxorem et est bache-larius. In Great Britain there has been no direct legislation bearing on bachelors; but, occasionally, taxes have been made to bear more heavily on them than on others. Instances of this are an Act passed in 1695; the tax on servants, 1785; and the income tax, 1798.
In some cultures, the "punishment" of bachelors is no more than a teasing game. In small towns in Germany, for example, men who were still unmarried on their 30th birthday were made to sweep the stairs of the town hall until kissed by a virgin. This "punishment" is still practised today in parts of Northern Germany [1]. Similarly, in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and the rest of Scandinavia, a male is called a "pebersvend" and may receive a giant pepper grinder on his 30th birthday if unmarried [2].

Famous lifetime bachelors

Living bachelors

Longtime bachelors


Further reading

bachelor in German: Junggeselle
bachelor in Hungarian: Agglegény
bachelor in Dutch: Vrijgezel
bachelor in Norwegian Nynorsk: Ungkar
bachelor in Ukrainian: Холостяк

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Bayard, Don Quixote, Gawain, Lancelot, Ritter, Sidney, Sir Galahad, baccalaureate, baccalaureus, bach, banneret, baronet, caballero, cavalier, chevalier, companion, confirmed bachelor, degree, doctor, doctorate, knight, knight bachelor, knight banneret, knight baronet, knight-errant, master, old bach, single man
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