The Grammarphobia Blog

The origin of “randy”

Q: My name is Randy, which may explain my interest in the adjective “randy.” Do you know the origin of the word?

A: The adjective “randy” originally meant rude, disorderly, or aggressive, and dates back to the late 17th century in Scotland. It was first used to describe beggars, according to The Oxford English Dictionary, most likely “implying vagrant habits as well as rude behavior.” It probably originated with an old Dutch word, “randten,” meaning to rave or talk foolishly, which also gave us the English word “rant.”

It wasn’t until the 1840’s that “randy” came to mean wanton, lustful, or sexually aroused. I don’t know why it took on that meaning, though it already had an element of coarseness and that quality may have been exaggerated to include the sense of lewdness. (In Scotland, according to the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, “randy” can still mean “having a coarse manner.”)