• An individual with no settled place to reside, or no means of employment, or neither

  • An aimless explorer or wanderer


  • Traveling or moving about in an aimless, spontaneous, or unpredictable fashion

  • Pertaining to one who is without a settled home or occupation with which to support oneself


Have you ever had the urge to just set out somewhere, for a walk or maybe even a whole road trip, and just see where chance takes you? Structure is certainly a good thing, as our daily lives would probably be chaotic without it, but sometimes it’s refreshing to be spontaneous and see where the spur of the moment takes you. So whenever you feel life getting monotonous, try the life of an adventurous vagrant for a day - you might be surprised where you end up.

Vagrant is a noun for a traveler or wanderer whose path is unplanned or somehow unfocused. The journey of a vagrant can be anything from packing and moving to a new city on a whim to just taking a casual jaunt through the city as long as it is left to chance to guide. Some of the earliest seafaring explorers could have been considered vagrants, but you could be one too if you decided to go for a meandering stroll during your lunch break. More often, though, the noun vagrant is used today to mean someone who is either without a place to call home, lacking gainful employment, or both. For example, you might be more likely to refer to yourself as a vagrant if you were laid off from your job than if you went on a leisurely walk. And while there are certainly intrepid researchers venturing into the unknown, they are not as often regarded as vagrants as a homeless person huddled under blankets on a park bench. In a sense, this understanding of vagrant is tied up with the preceding one, as those without a place to reside often travel from place to place, either around the city or around the country, and spend the night under what shelter they can find.

Vagrant can also be used as an adjective in two senses, which correspond respectively to the foregoing two noun senses. Describing a person or thing as vagrant can either signify the aimlessness or unpredictability of the route that it traces or that it relates to lacking shelter or occupation. In the first of these senses, you could call your lunchtime excursion a vagrant stroll, or you could characterize your ex-coworker who bounces randomly between jobs in different professions as a vagrant employee. In the second sense, you could say that a homeless person is in vagrant straits, or simply call them a vagrant individual. Whether one is vagrant by choice or by unfortunate circumstance, what all vagrants share is that they are guided by uncertainty.

Example: Little did the passersby know that the vagrant who panhandled in the park was a decorated war veteran.

Example: The young vagrant spent his first year after college traveling here and there between European towns as he pleased.

Example: She made a vagrant progression from one major to another in her search for her passion.

Example: After he was laid off from his job, he led a vagrant lifestyle until he found a free career training program.


Prior to the first direct ancestor of the noun form of vagrant, the Anglo-French word vageraunt (meaning “wandering around”), there are two potential origins the word's lineage may trace. The first is by way of the Anglo-French adjectives wacrant and walcrant, both of which translate to “wandering around” and, before them, the Old French verb walcrer, meaning “to stray or wander around.” The latter term derives from the Germanic word walken, meaning “wander,” and is related to the Old Norse word valka, meaning “to wander,” the Old High German walkan, meaning “to walk,” and the English word walk. The second possible origin postulates that vagarant stems from the Old French vagant (alternatively, vagaunt), meaning “wandering,” which comes from the Latin word vagantem, the past participle of vagari, meaning “to amble or walk around.” The adjective form of the word derives from its noun forerunner, and wandered into English sometime in the early 1400s by way of the Anglo-French word vagarant.

Derivative Words

Vagrancy: This additional noun derived from vagrant refers to the condition of being without a residence or job (or both), or of being a directionless traveler.

Example: As more sociological studies are published, it is becoming increasingly clear that there are many factors that cause a person to succumb to vagrancy.

Example: She scrupulously saved money from her job so she could devote the entire summer to vagrancy all across Southeast Asia.

Vagrantly: The adverb form of vagrant indicates when some deed is done in an aimless fashion, or in relation to one with no place to live or work.

Example: Uncertain of his true calling after college, he drifted vagrantly from job to job across multiple fields.

Example: She slept vagrantly on a bench every night, as she had nowhere to call home.

Vagary (Plural Vagaries): Vagary is a noun which also derives from the same root as vagrant and means an action or incident which arises or is done spontaneously or wildly. It can also signify a fleeting want or desire that manifests suddenly or seemingly unprompted, as if the heart and its inclinations are themselves wandering.

Example: The spontaneous parade down the town’s main boulevard made for a particularly irksome vagary for the commuters trying to get to work.

Example: The vagary toward the designer suit in the window soon passed upon inspecting the price tag.

Example: The result of the cricket match hung on the vagaries of the weather in Manchester.

In Literature

From John Masefield's poem “Sea-fever,” from Sea Fever: Selected Poems:

I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

The narrator here compares his time living the life of a sailor, drifting from port to port, to that of a wandering, or vagrant, gypsy.


  • A vagrant has only a vague idea where they’re going.

  • A vagrant traveler has a flagrant disregard for direction.


Uncertainty, Wandering, Gypsy life

Bring out the linguist in you! What is your own interpretation of vagrant. Did you use vagrant in a game? Provide an example sentence or a literary quote.