"If they ever come up with a swashbuckling school, I think one of the courses should be Laughing, Then Jumping Off Something." --Jack Handey

"En garde,you filthy swine..."

Swashbuckling evolved from swordfighting techniques characteristic of or acting in the manner of a swashbuckler. Recklessly daring; dare devilish; swaggering; as, an old Errol Flynn swashbuckling film about pirates. More recently are the astounding swashbuckling cinematic feats of Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl! As an action sword-wielding ruffian; everything seems to come easy to him on the silver screen.

A form of haplology or when the contraction of a word occurs with the results being the loss of one or more syllable or sounds, the word swashbuckling evolved from the word swashbuckle in use around 1560 meaning ““Too be a dronkarde,..a gamner, a swashe-buckeler, he hath not alowed thee one mite.” Swashbuckle as a verb cropped up from the noun in the late 19th century and by the 1970s a swashbuckler became also known as a movie or novel portraying swashbuckler characters. The experts at Take Our Word for It give some additional background:

    The word is composed of two older words. The first is swash, which was a verb meaning “to make a sound by striking two swords together or by striking a shield with a sword.” That meaning is first recorded in 1556. The verb came from the noun swash, which was an imitative word referring to the sound of splashing water or to the sound of a blow. It is first recorded in 1538. Then there’s buckler, which is an old word for a shield. It dates in writing from around 1300. It derives ultimately from Latin buccula boss”, which is a raised umbo or knob found, in this case, on the front of medieval shields. Buccula is the diminutive of bucca, which is though to come from the Indo-European root beu- "to swell", such as the rounded "swelling" of one's inflated cheek. Spanish boca "mouth" comes from the same source.
The term swashbuckler was probably derived from the striking of bucklers, a small shield, in fighting and the original sense seems to have been "one who makes menacing noises by striking his or an opponent's shield." Anyone who was daring enough to strike his weapon against another’s or to hit his own sword against his shield was either trying to pick a fight or blustering that he was ready to fight. . Did you know that today as a part of a war dance the Zulu of South Africa have ritualized the hitting of one's shield with one's weapon as an indication to do battle? As an adjective swashbuckling appeared in the late 17th century related to swordfighting techniques to an informal art of dueling. In swashbuckling, anyone with a fencing sword, net, or parrying weapon may swashbuckle. Swashbucklers will use all of theatrical stratagems in dueling and additionally there may be swinging about on chandeliers or swinging across on ropes to neighboring ships, leaping off of galloping horses, parrying attacks with ale tankards all while fighting off dozens of opponents at once and sparing the breath for a witty quip. Swashbucklers may attempt to startle their foe with a dirty trick by spitting in their opponent's eye, hurl a tankard of ale in their face, throw dirt in their eyes, or some other similar measure. The final, but by no means least, trait common to swashbucklers is skill with a sword. The swashbuckler is an expert in their use and abuse, often studying under several different masters to gain a better understanding of the weapon they use. A variety of other weapons are often studied, though this is more often to learn what to expect from an opponent bearing one rather than to gain practical use out of them.


A "swashbuckler" was originally a second-rate swordsman who compensated by making a great deal of racket, blustering through the streets thumping his sword on his shield, demanding bystanders to swordfights, and just generally acting like an oaf. Eve though bona fide swashbucklers were by and large cheap bullies, swashbuckling got a prosaic whirl in trendy adventure novels, and later in dozens of Hollywood "swashbucklers," pirate movies transforming brash rabble into daring adventurers, roaming the world in search of excitement and fortune. Just how successful this rewriting of the past has been can be determined from the fact that investment bankers and corporate takeover artists to affectionately describe the most rapacious members of their breed have lately adopted “swashbuckler”. Methinks it may be time to dig up my favorite pirate practice for these people: walking the plank!

Some of the more renowned swashbuckling characters of balladry, fiction, and film, from the shores of Avalon to the dungeons of Zenda are Robin Hood, King Arthur, and D'Artagnan. Famous swashbuckling stories: The Prisoner of Zenda and Rupert of Hentzau by Anthony Hope, The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emma Orczy , Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand and Zorro who first appeared in Johnston McCulley's 1919 serialized novel The Curse of Capistrano. Popularized in modern times by the movies of Errol Flynn, the fight scenes staged by sword master William Hobbs (Willow, Excalibur, Ladyhawke, Richard Lester's The Three Musketeers (1974), The Man in the Iron Mask (1998), Rob Roy, and others), and other famed fictional sword battles (Star Wars: The Phantom Menace! Whoo-hoo!)


Flamboyance is a key element to the art of swashbuckling, as no true swashbuckler would ever call what he does a skill (and no one could term it a science) of flamboyantly and honorably slaying your enemies. Honor plays a very large role in the life of a Swashbuckler. The rules are simple. Be honest whenever possible, fight fairly, and never malign a person who is not your open enemy. Women and children are not to be harmed, a rule that even a miscreant swashbuckler will follow. Courtesy, Valor, Prowess, Loyalty... all the traits attributed to honor throughout the ages are exhibited by the Swashbuckler, if for no other reason than because the traits make them look good.

All for one and one for all!!!


The American Heritage® Dictionary:

Online Etymology Dictionary:

Take Our Word for It:

The Word Detective:

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