The Grammarphobia Blog

Badged, badgered, and bewildered

Q: I was recently listening to a police lieutenant describe how he drove from Jersey City to Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001. The New Jersey Turnpike was closed to all but military vehicles but he “badged” his way on so he could get to the scene. I hadn’t heard that usage before, but it makes perfect sense to me.


A: Thanks for the observation. I’ll make note of it.

Interestingly, “badge” has been used as a verb as far back as the 14th century. Over the years, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, it has meant to mark or distinguish, to buy something for resale, and to harvest a crop.

Here’s a quotation from Macbeth for the first meaning: “Their Hands and Faces were all badg’d with blood.” The second meaning (to buy for resale) is a reference to the old term “badger” (a middleman or itinerant dealer). The third definition (to harvest) may be related to the words “bag” or “batch.”

The verb “badge” comes, as one might expect, from the noun “badge,” but the origin of the noun is unknown. Etymologists have speculated that it might be derived from Anglo-Latin or Anglo-French words for emblem.

As for the quadruped that we call a “badger,” the origin of the word is uncertain, though some wordsmiths speculate that it might refer to the white marks or badges on the animal’s head.

I won’t badger you any more about this, except to note that the verb “badger” (to pester or persecute) comes from badger-baiting or badger-drawing, a so-called sport in which dogs were once used to draw captured badgers from artificial dens. Shades of Michael Vick!

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