Saunter: A Word With an Interesting History

The word “saunter,” which means to “wander about,” is derived from Saint Terre (Holy Land). The connection is this: After the age of the catacombs, with the ascent of Constantine and Theodosius to the imperial Roman throne, Christians were free to make pilgrimages to Palestine. This was always a dangerous journey, especially after the seventh century and the rise of Islam, drawing all sorts of wayfarers: the genuinely pious, the penitents, the adventurers, the seekers of fortune, and the runners from justice. Usually the pilgrims traveled in caravans for safety. Many saints, and good priests and bishops, from the East and West, preached against what they often saw in such journeymen as a spirit of uncertain and sometimes even scandalous restlessness. The French coined the word saunter to describe such peripatetic meanderings of vagabond types on their way to Saint Terre.