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AVAST YE VARLET ORIGIN

Thursday March 31st, 2011
AVAST YE VARLET

The definitive cry of legendary ship’s captains has been used in countless texts, plays and movies. Avast is a nautical command meaning to stop or desist. It is an Anglicised version of the Middle Dutch phrase ‘hou vast’, which translates as hold fast.

Varlet originates from Old French and is a variant of vaslet or valet – meaning attendant or servant. In medieval times it was used to describe a knight’s page or knave. It became quite common in storytelling and folklore for knaves/varlets to be portrayed as rascals and scoundrels which in turn lead to the words becoming somewhat derogatory.

“Avast ye Varlet” therefore means “Hold fast you scoundrel”. Whether anyone actually shouted it in real life it questionable. It tends to be used more for comic effect.
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