Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I am studying Middle Eastern migration to Latin America at the end of the nineteenth century. One of the popular practices among these people was peddling, and there is much research on those who sell their goods on the streets. Yet, peddler is not the only word used for them. Hawker and beggar are also used by scholars. What is the difference between these words?

share|improve this question
    
From the point of view of social historians, beggars, peddlers, and hawkers aren't much different from petty thieves in crowds (pickpockets and the like). They're all just peripheral members of society, making / taking a living at the margins. –  FumbleFingers Nov 22 '11 at 17:40
    
"petty thieves" may not be appropriate, at least, in the context of these immigrants. No one defines them as thieves in the scholarship. I have never seen such a definition from any social historian's perspective. –  kiraz Nov 22 '11 at 17:51
    
It's not a moral issue. I'm just saying that from the "higher perspective" of social history they are all much of a muchness in terms of affecting the ongoing development of a society. –  FumbleFingers Nov 22 '11 at 18:00
    
I see your point. From the "higher perspective," they can be considered as misfits, but still I would not say thieves. Thanks again. –  kiraz Nov 22 '11 at 18:06
    
Exactly - society's "fellow travellers" or "camp followers", if you will. Conquering armies invariably had plenty of them, which historians don't dwell on because they don't really affect the course of events much, in retrospect. –  FumbleFingers Nov 22 '11 at 18:12
show 2 more comments

3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Beggar is obviously different from the other two in that he is not offering goods for sale, just begging.

From the definitions, both hawkers and peddlers travel about selling things, but in my mind a hawker is more of a person who calls out their goods for sale in a public place, while a peddler may be going door to door.

share|improve this answer
    
Thanks for your response. I also can see the difference of beggar, however some scholars use this word for the people who work on the streets. I thought maybe the word beggar was an old version to define people who work on the streets. Because begging is a very old tradition, however peddling is kinda new practice. Anyway, thanks again. –  kiraz Nov 22 '11 at 17:32
    
Agreed re beggars, but I don't recognise any distinction between where peddlers and hawkers conduct their activities. –  FumbleFingers Nov 22 '11 at 17:34
    
There are a lot of relations among them (beggars sometimes "sell" relatively worthless items in order to circumvent laws against panhandling) and my answer is a simplification, of course. Hopefully someone will offer up some background on the whole history of beggars' guilds that I recall hearing about via Howard Pyle's Robin Hood. –  JeffSahol Nov 22 '11 at 17:39
    
@Jasper Loy: That I do agree with - not hard-and-fast, but to me peddlers chimes more with tinkers, implying an itinerant lifestyle. But hawk from door to door seems like a pretty familiar "set phrase" to me. –  FumbleFingers Nov 22 '11 at 17:55
add comment

As noted, beggar is quite different from the other two (so much so that it really has no place in the discussion).

A peddler and a hawker both sell things, both might use a spiel to do so, and both are itinerant. My impression of the difference is that a peddler carries his merchandise around, so his selling activities take place in varied circumstances — the marketplace in the morning, a customer's doorstep in the afternoon, the next town over by tomorrow. A hawker, on the other hand, is more likely to be associated with some sort of storefront, even if that's just a blanket in an odd corner of the flea market, and even if said blanket is in a different flea market each day of the week. There is also the possibility that a hawker is employed by the store owner, while a peddler is almost certainly working for himself.

Interestingly, my impressions are somewhat contradicted by the Online Etymology Dictionary, which under hawk (v.1) notes that

Despite the etymological connection with stooping under a burden on one's back, a hawker is technically distinguished from a peddler by use of a horse and cart or a van.

Note that whatever the differences, they're all pretty vague, and in most cases (especially modernly) peddler and hawker can be used as exact synonyms.

share|improve this answer
    
Interesting! Thanks for your response. You say " a peddler is almost certainly working for himself." Sometimes a peddler is working herself which is my primary focus in this project. There were many women peddlers on the streets of Latin America. –  kiraz Nov 22 '11 at 18:10
    
I was using "him" as a generic pronoun, not specifically a masculine one. –  Marthaª Nov 22 '11 at 18:13
    
Yes, I know, I do not judge your word choice. The point is no one expects to see women peddlers in the end of nineteenth century, especially in Latin America. I just wanted to say it. –  kiraz Nov 22 '11 at 18:20
add comment

My (Scottish-influenced) dictionary says that the technical distinction is that a pedlar carries his goods from door to door personally, e.g. in a pack, while a hawker has a horse and cart (or possibly a van, nowadays). Peddler is the US spelling: peddle was a back-formation from pedlar or the archaic version pedder. There are no references I can check, apart from an old dialect use of ped meaning to sell; but it's plausible.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.