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  • Paul Anthony Jones


(n.) an unwelcome visitor who outstays their welcome

Someone who comes round your house uninvited, then stays longer that you’d want them to, is a drawlatch.

That being said, that isn’t the only meaning this word has in our language. When it first emerged in the Middle English period, drawlatch was a word for a thief who quite literally ‘draws’ up the ‘latch’ on a door to sneak into a home. In that sense—which makes this word another example of a cutthroat compound—it dates back to the 1300s.

By the Middle Ages, a new meaning had emerged: a drawlatch had become a string or cord hanging on the outside of a door or gate that, when pulled, draws up the latch on the other side. And then again, in the 1500s, a third meaning developed and drawlatch came to be used of a lazing, idling fellow who lags behind the rest of a group. In that sense, the word was probably being used as a pun, as latch alone has long been used for a lazy, laggardly person in a handful of English dialects.

The sense we mentioned over on Twitter is another dialect use, which probably emerged in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries—and nor is it alone. According to the English Dialect Dictionary, drawlatch or drawlatcher can also be used of “a sneaking fellow”, “an eavesdropper”, “a lazy, idle, loitering person”, and “a deceiver”. And as a verb—in perhaps its most useful application—feel free to use it to mean “to dawdle, waste time, [or] spend much time on little work.”

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