The word charivari “A serenade of ‘rough music’, with kettles, pans, tea-trays, and the like” (OED), the source of the fine American shivaree (Twain: “She turned on all the horrors of the ‘Battle of Prague’, that venerable shivaree, and waded chin-deep in the blood of the slain”), is from French, but beyond that the etymology is unknown; the OED says “various conjectures are mentioned by Littré.” Well, the estimable Conrad H. Roth of Varieties of Unreligious Experience has posted seven, count ’em seven, such conjectures, including “Greek καρηβαρία, ‘heaviness of the head’, because a deafening charivari can cause headaches,” “French hunting term harer, ‘to rouse dogs,'” and “Low Latin caria, nut, κάρυον, because nuts are thrown and a great din is kicked up on a wedding-day.” Anyone who enjoys picking through the detritus of the etymologist’s workroom should go over and contemplate hypotheses. (And while you’re there, immerse yourself in his tribute to the bridges of London.)


  1. I wonder why there’s no mention of Ukrainian “sharovary”, wide flowing pants, which came, according to Vasmer, from Iranian *šаrаvārа- “pants” (*ščаrаvārа-), also producing Greek σαράβαρα, σαράβαλλα and Middle Latin saraballa.

  2. Whoa! A notable death indeed!

  3. aldiboronti says

    My first introduction to this word was as a schoolboy reading 19th century copies of Punch in the school library. The full title of the magazine was Punch, or The London Charivari.

  4. aldiboronti says

    Wikipedia informs me that Punch’s subtitle of The London Charivari was a reference to a famous French satirical newspaper, Le Charivari: ” …….an illustrated newspaper published in Paris, France from 1832 to 1937.
    Le Charivari published caricatures, political cartoons and reviews. In 1835 the government banned political caricature, thus Le Charivari began publishing satires of everyday life.”

  5. For what it’s worth, both NID3 and AHD4 adopt the caribarius etymology. There’s nothing obviously wrong with it, even if the semantic spread is a little wide.

  6. Charivari has a different meaning in Bavaria. I first heard this when I wondered why Radio Charivari in Munich was so named. It’s a chain with ornaments (coins, rabbits’ feet, charms) hanging from it that is worn across the belly over Bavarian folk costume. German definition in the Lederhosen Lexikon:
    Some pictures here:
    Modern variants at Lollipop und Alpenrock:

  7. Le Trésor de la Langue Française Informatisé
    has a long passage on possible origins, tending towards Latin taken from Greek.

  8. Siganus Sutor says

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    etc, etc, etc.
    Good Lord! what a mess! I wonder whether Steve can sleep with such a charivari…
    (Incidentally, spammers are amazing these days: they know that charivari has something to do with weddings.)

  9. Siganus Sutor says

    God! what have I done?
    Now that I’m surrounded by spams, I’m dead sure to be wiped out…

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