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peon1

[pee-uh n, pee-on]
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noun
  1. (in Spanish America) a farm worker or unskilled laborer; day laborer.
  2. (formerly, especially in Mexico) a person held in servitude to work off debts or other obligations.
  3. any person of low social status, especially one who does work regarded as menial or unskilled; drudge.

Origin of peon1

1820–30; < Spanish peón peasant, day laborer < Vulgar Latin *pedōn- (stem of *pedō) walker (whence Medieval Latin pedōnēs infantry, Old French peon pawn2), derivative of Latin ped- (stem of pēs) foot
Can be confusedpaean paeon peon

peon2

[pee-uh n, pee-on]
noun (in India and Sri Lanka)
  1. a messenger, attendant, or orderly.
  2. a foot soldier or police officer.

Origin of peon2

1600–10; < Portuguese peão, French pion foot soldier, pedestrian, day laborer. See peon1
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for peon

Historical Examples

  • The school is as free to the son of a peon as to him with the richest of parents.

    Aztec Land

    Maturin M. Ballou

  • This arrangement is all against the peon, and all in favor of the employer.

    Aztec Land

    Maturin M. Ballou

  • It is the cache of ammunition with which to save the peon and Indian slave,––you know that!

    The Treasure Trail

    Marah Ellis Ryan

  • A peon was seen walking that morning on the verandah with a letter in his hand.

    The Shadow-Line

    Joseph Conrad

  • There I found a peon and two chaprassis, the three men I had met on the road.

    In the Forbidden Land

    Arnold Henry Savage Landor


British Dictionary definitions for peon

peon1

noun
  1. a Spanish-American farm labourer or unskilled worker
  2. (formerly in Spanish America) a debtor compelled to work off his debts
  3. any very poor person

Word Origin

C19: from Spanish peón peasant, from Medieval Latin pedō man who goes on foot, from Latin pēs foot; compare Old French paon pawn ²

peon2

noun (in India, Sri Lanka, etc, esp formerly)
  1. a messenger or attendant, esp in an office
  2. a native policeman
  3. a foot soldier

Word Origin

C17: from Portuguese peão orderly; see peon 1
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for peon

n.

unskilled worker, 1826, from Mexican Spanish peon "agricultural laborer" (especially a debtor held in servitude by his creditor), from Spanish peon "day laborer," also "pedestrian," originally "foot soldier," from Medieval Latin pedonem "foot soldier" (see pawn (n.2)). The word entered British English earlier (c.1600) in the sense "native constable, soldier, or messenger in India," via Portuguese peao "pedestrian, foot soldier, day laborer."

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

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