- 1. n. A beggar
- 2. n. Historically, a member of an order of friars, forbidden to own property, who beg for a living
The historical use of the word mendicant to describe Christian orders with vows of poverty began in the Middle Ages. There were four primary mendicant orders: the Franciscans, the Carmelites, Dominicans, and the Augustinians.
The word itself came to Middle English as mendinant, through Old French, from the original Latin mendicare, or “to beg.” The verb came from mendicus, or “beggar,” but its original meaning referred to a cripple. That’s because the root menda meant “fault” or “physical defect.”
Interesting, the same root leads to the word “mendacious,” (dishonest or deceitful) from the Latin mendacium, or “lie.” In this case, of course, it’s more of a moral or philosophical defect rather than a disability.
As a further point of interest, this is the same root that leads to our word “amend,” which is simple a combination of the prefix a- which negates the base mend, or fault. That is, to correct a fault. Our word “mend,” which means essentially the same thing as “amend,” is merely the product of aphesis–the dropping of unstressed initial syllables–even though it makes for a rather illogical construction.