Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 21, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

BOUNDERS AND CADS REVISITED....My post yesterday about bounders and cads provoked a torrent of commentary and email, so I thought I'd share it with everyone. What is the difference between a bounder and a cad?

  • First things first. Commenter Mischa provides the official answer courtesy of the OED. A cad is "a fellow of low vulgar manners and behaviour" while a bounder is "a person of objectionable manners or anti-social behaviour; a cad."

    We still have the problem of a bounder being defined as a cad (not helpful), but we also have the distinction between "low vulgar manners" and "objectionable manners." Onward then.

  • Turbonium was one of several people who suggested that the two words are used together not so much because they truly have different meanings, but simply because "a bounder and a cad" is idiomatic usage, like "vim and vigor" or "high and mighty." John Mattson points out that the phrase was often used by Bugs Bunny, usually addressed to Elmer Fudd on occasions when Bugs was in drag.

  • On the other hand Bernard Yomtov suggests that bounder is a general term while cad is specifically associated with poor behavior toward women. Thus, cad is a subset of bounder.

    Nancy Irving, though cheerfully admitting she might be full of shit on this, agrees: "I had always understood 'bounder' as encompassing a class-based (as well as an ethics-based) sneer; someone like Lord Lucan, for example, would have been called a cad but not a bounder (being an aristocrat). 'Bounder' is a word that upperclass people use about people whose class status they find dubious, whereas 'cad' applies to cads irrespective of class."

    Tony Shifflett quotes a former professor of his saying approximately the same thing: "He defined it thus: Society has norms of behavior. Some behaviors are 'out of bounds'. Those people are bounders, they cross over the boundaries of society."

    Paul Breslin via email: "About 'cad' and 'bounder': the second word has also the meaning of 'parvenu,' someone who is attempting to leap (or bound) above his class origins. 'Cad' simply identifies an unscrupulous man (especially in his behavior toward women), but a bounder is also a social climber."

    Eli Brennan, also via email: "My handy desktop Websters suggests that cads are particularly bad in their relations with women while bounders are more generally of bad stock."

    Andrew Todd: "A cad cheats at cards. A bounder talks too loud in pubs."

  • J. Hart acknowledges that the lack of an OED reference hurts the case for this, but nonetheless thinks "bounder" might originate from Charles Dickens' Mr. Bounderby from Hard Times: "A big, loud man, with a stare, and a metallic laugh. A man made out of a coarse material, which seemed to have been stretched to make so much of him....A man who was always proclaiming, through that brassy speaking-trumpet of a voice of his, his old ignorance and his old poverty."

  • Perhaps the definitive answer could be found in the book A Bounder and a Cad, by George Ashley?

  • British commenter Al suggests that "a cad is more conscious of his actions and that they almost inevitably involve some form of sexual misconduct - cf James Hewitt / Princess Diana. Somewhere in there is also the possibility of the accused taking pride in his actions over a brandy in male company at a later date. A bounder is more someone who offends common sensibilities by being unaware of the alternatives."

    He then offers up a possible definition perfectly tailored to the Calpundit readership:

    Clinton: cad
    Bush: bounder

Yeah, that works. In fact, I think Al deserves to have the last word on this.

Kevin Drum 2:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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