A chapman (plural chapmen) was an itinerant dealer or hawker in early modern Britain. It has Nordic origins deriving from the Viking chaepmun.


To cheap was to bargain or deal. In Old English it was spelled céap. The ch spelling arose from a later rendering of the soft southern English c. The word appears in names such as Cheapside, Eastcheap and Chepstow; all markets or dealing places. Originally then, a céapmann was a trader or dealer: a merchant. By 1600, the word had come to be applied to an itinerant dealer. The habit of calling a young man a 'chap' arose from the use of the abbreviated word to mean a customer, one with whom to bargain but the complete word, chapman was still used of a customer around 1800. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the word was applied to hawkers of chapbooks, broadside ballads, and similar items. Their stock in trade provides a graphic insight into the methods of political and religious campaigners of the Civil War period, for example.

Chapman is also a common personal name of the class derived from trades.

Examples of use

One famous instance of the use of the term is found in the opening lines of the poem Tam O'Shanter by Robert Burns:
Whan chapman billies leave the street
And drouthy neibours neibours meet...

When young traders retire from the market
And thirsty neighbours meet together...


Oxford English Dictionary.

External links

An example of the use of the word in 1739.

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