What’s a Miscreant and How Is It Pronounced?

By Maeve Maddox

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Terry Gross used the word miscreants when introducing a commentary on NPR. The segment, “Madoff: A Scoundrel Or A Sociopath?” (15Apr2009) was a commentary by Geoff Nunberg on the word scoundrel in current usage.

Gross placed the stress on the second syllable.

The usual pronunciation of miscreant places the stress on the first syllable: [MIS-kree-ent].

miscreant – n. A villain, scoundrel; a rebel, criminal, or felon. Now freq. in weakened sense: a minor offender, reprobate. –OED

The mis- in miscreant represents O.Fr. mes– “bad(ly), wrong(ly),” from V.L. minus-, from L. minus “less” A miscreant was a person whose beliefs did not agree with official dogma.

The word entered the language as an adjective from Old French mescreant about 1330 with the sense “heretical, unbelieving, infidel.” The –creant part of the word is from Latin credere, “to believe.”

The use of miscreant as a noun dates from about 1380 and meant “heathen” or “Saracen.” The sense “villain” is first documented in 1590 in the works of Edmund Spenser.

Here are some recent uses of the word miscreant:

KORAPUT: A miscreant attacked a havildar of the Orissa Special Armed Police (OSAP) Bikram Kujur on Sunday night and snatched away his AK-47 rifle. The Hindu 27Feb2007

The next presidential campaign will show us whether these miscreant patricians [the Bush family] have poisoned the well of the presidential campaign system. If so, there’s no telling what kind of president we might get. –Howell Raines at CommonDreams.org; originally published in The Age 21Dec05

[Pacman Jones is] a rude, crude, and violent miscreant who has yet to express an iota remorse for the manager of the establishment that he trashed; a man who will spend the rest of his life in a wheel chair as a direct result of the actions of Jones and his “Posse”. Sports Illustrated CNN commentator

NOTE: “Miscreant” was the name of “a short-lived melodic death metal band” from Sweden.

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