Chapman (occupation)

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A chapman (plural chapmen) was an itinerant dealer or hawker in early modern Britain.


Old English céapmann was the regular term for "dealer, seller", cognate with the Dutch koopman with the same meaning. Old English céap meant "deal, barter, business". The modern adjective cheap is a comparatively recent development from the phrase a good cheap, literally "a good deal" (cf. modern Dutch goedkoop = cheap). The word also appears in names such as Cheapside, Eastcheap and Chepstow: all markets or dealing places. The name of the Danish capital Copenhagen has a similar origin, being derived from Køpmannæhafn, meaning "merchants' harbour" or "buyer's haven".

By 1600, the word chapman had come to be applied to an itinerant dealer in particular, but it remained in use for "customer, buyer" as well as "merchant" in the 17th and 18th centuries. The slang term for man, "chap" arose from the use of the abbreviated word to mean a customer, one with whom to bargain.

The word was applied to hawkers of chapbooks, broadside ballads, and similar items.[1] Their stock in trade provides a graphic insight into the methods of political and religious campaigners of the Civil War period, for example.

Chapman is also a common personal name of the class derived from trades.

Examples of use[edit]

An instance of the use of the term is found in the opening lines of the poem Tam o' Shanter by Robert Burns:

Whan chapman billies leave the street
And drouthy neibours neibours meet...
"When trader comrades leave the street
And thirsty neighbours meet together..."

See also[edit]


  • Oxford English Dictionary.
  1. ^ Hagan, Dr. Anett (August 2019). "Chapbooks: the poor person's reading material". Europeana (CC By-SA) (in British English). Retrieved 2019-10-10.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)

External links[edit]