What would you call somebody waylaying in the middle ages? I found the term "highwayman" but that doesn't seem to be any older than 1600 something, so way too new for what I'm looking for. An outlaw seems to be something different again (being an outlaw as a sentence). What term would you use? Are there any references in old English literature I could refer to?

  • Well, you wouldn’t want road-agent then, as we’re still five years shy of the sesquicentennial of its first attested usage.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 19:25
  • I feel like something closer to outlaw might work, yea unto Old English. OED Etymology: “ate OE. útlaᵹa, definite form of útlaᵹ, útlah adj. ‘outlawed’, used absolutely as sb.; a. ONor. útlagi sb. from útlagr outlawed, banished; f. út out, out of + ONor. *lagu, lög (pl. of lag), OE. laᵹu, law. Cf. these examples of the OE. adj.:- C. 924 Laws of Edward & Guthrum c. 6. §6 (Schmid) ᵹif he man to deaðe ᵹefylle, beo he þonne utlah. A. 1016 Laws of Æthelred i. c. 1 §9 Beo se þeof utlah wið eall folc. C. 1050 O.E. Chron. an. 1048 Đa cwæð man Sweᵹen eorl utlah.”
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 19:48
  • You might refer to this article on early Robin Hood references. Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 19:53
  • 1
    From the linked article (and dated 1283); Lytil Jhon and Robyne Hude Wayth-men ware commendyd gude In Yngil-wode and Barnysdale Thai oysyd all this tyme thare trawale. Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 19:54
  • Thanks all of you, you helped me a lot! I will consider the choices I have and do some further research but you all pushed me in a good direction :) Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 21:53

2 Answers 2


In decreasing likelihood, I might choose
"brigand" ‒ 14th Century
"bandit" ‒ 1611
"robber" ‒ 13th Century or
"thug" ‒ 1810.

  • Outlaw from the 10ᵗʰ century (924 ᴀᴅ) has those beat. :)
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 19:50
  • @tchrist True. Oddly lawbreaker is 15th century according to MW. Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 19:52
  • Thanks here too! I will do further research but you all gave me a great fundament for it! Thanks :) Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 21:54
  • "Outlaw" had a specific meaning: one who has been formally denied the protection of law. Among other things, that meant you could be beaten, robbed, enslaved or killed without civil consequence. One could be declared outlaw as the result of criminal behaviour, but criminal behaviour didn't make one an outlaw, the declaration did.
    – bye
    Commented Jan 9, 2014 at 11:04

The word "Cutpurse" is one of my personal favorites. The origins of that word fit snugly into the tail end of your timeframe.

  • 1
    Sorry for my delayed answer, stack exchange wasn't available the places I've been in China the recent weeks -.- I like it :D Let's see, if it fits in. Thank you anyway! Commented Feb 23, 2014 at 20:30
  • There's a similar word in Polish, and most people aren't aware it comes from the technical means of commiting robbery in medieval times ;) Commented Mar 3, 2014 at 13:32

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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