So I'm looking for a single word to describe someone or something such as a wandering scholar, or a person who travels to obtain knowledge, or even a mobile repository of information.

Preferably something archaic and eclectic.


  • 1
    12th-13th century students- and clergy-turned-itinerant entertainers were called Goliards, a word of disputed origin. Dec 2, 2015 at 4:03
  • @StoneyB Not sure that is quite what I'm looking for, but I am loving that word in general, as well as the 4-hour-long Wikipedia rabbit hole that it's inevitably going to lead me down. Where'd you learn it?
    – DanTheMan
    Dec 2, 2015 at 4:10
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    There was a 1920s scholarly study of Goliardic poetry called "The Wandering Scholars" hanging around my father's library; I read it when I was twelve or thirteen. Dec 2, 2015 at 4:15
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    Why would you love a one-word replacement of an understandable two-word phrase that would just send virtually every reader to a dictionary to read a twenty-word definition? I understand the stated preference is "archaic and eclectic". But why?
    – 1252748
    Dec 2, 2015 at 4:33
  • @thomas To use as a formal title in a piece of fiction, and what they do and why is explained elsewhere throughout. So it's not meant to be something that the reader must inherently know about, it's meant to be fitting.
    – DanTheMan
    Dec 2, 2015 at 18:53

2 Answers 2


The one word I suggest is 'vagans':

vagantes, n.
With pl. concord. The scholar monks who travelled about Europe in the Middle Ages. Occas. in sing. form vagans.

1927 H. Waddell Wandering Scholars p. v, The historical interest of the Vagantes as one of the earliest disintegrating forces in the mediaeval church has been left on one side.
1945 A. J. Macdonald Episcopi Vagantes in Church Hist. 8 The sentence of deprivation, which was intended as a means of checking episcopal vagancy, in effect only made it worse, by causing the offender to pass from being an occasional vagans into a condition of permanent vagancy. 1946 Scrutiny Dec. 90 Carols, nursery rhymes and the songs of the vagantes.
1973 M. Blackett Mark of Maker viii. 79 Helen began serious work on selection and translation of the lyrics of her ‘vagantes’.
1982 F. Corrigan in H. Waddell Songs of Wandering Scholars 9 Her research brought her face to face with vagantes, wandering scholars, from the very dawn of Christianity.

["vagantes, n.". OED Online. September 2015. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/221003?rskey=s5m8v6&result=7&isAdvanced=true (accessed December 02, 2015).]

George F. Whicher described the vagantes and their origins in the introductory chapter of his book of translations of The Goliard Poets (1949):

Hedge-priests, monks out of the cloister, men who for one reason or another had left the schools and taken to a nomadic life, had been trouble to the church since the fifth century. These vagantes or gyrovagi were greatly increased in number when the universities came into being and began to draw crowds of students from far and near. The young scholars soon fell into a way of traveling from one school to another, as the contemporary saying went, seeking the liberal arts at Paris, law at Orleans, medicine at Salerno, magic at Toledo, and manners and morals nowhere.

That description might suggest that gyrovagi would also work; gyrovagi, however, has not found sufficient use in English for it to be included as an English word in the OED. Another term, Sarabaites, similar to gyrovagi, is found in the OED, but as a referent it has an oblique relationship with scholarship:

One of a class of monks in the early Church who lived together in small bands without rule or superior. †Also as adj., applied to certain followers of the Franciscan rule (see quot.138.), prob. the Fratricelli.
1765 A. Maclaine tr. J. L. von Mosheim Eccl. Hist. Cent. iv. ii. iii. §15 Those wandering fanatics, or rather impostors, whom the Egyptians called Sarabaites.
1801 A. Ranken Hist. France I. 224 The Sarabaites, who associated two or three together, lived sometimes in solitude, but always without rule or order.
1904 F. A. Gasquet Eng. Monastic Life 8 The Gyrovagi and Sarabites.

["Sarabaite, n.". OED Online. September 2015. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/170913?rskey=zFSowd&result=1&isAdvanced=true (accessed December 02, 2015).]

The term goliard might also be considered useful as a description of wandering scholars. Its meaning, however, is typically more restricted:

Obs. exc. Hist.
One of the class of educated jesters, buffoons, and authors of loose or satirical Latin verse, who flourished chiefly in the 12th and 13th c. in Germany, France, and England.

["goliard, n.". OED Online. September 2015. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/79829?redirectedFrom=goliard (accessed December 02, 2015).]




It is neither archaic nor eclectic, but it's apt. An explorer is a person who may or may not also be a scientist. Some were naturalists, other linguists, still others geologists. Adventurers who merely want to see new places also fall into this category.

Henry Morton Stanley, of the "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" fame, was an explorer:


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