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Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a relatively obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar, another brick to add to the wall of your vocabulary. This week's word:  

CATCHPOLL

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This very old word (the Oxford English Dictionary displays an Old English citation from A.D. 1050) has fallen sadly into disuse. In the Middle Ages a catchpoll was a tax collector. The word derives from the medieval Latin cacepollus and Old French cachepol, ultimately from the Latin pullus or fowl. It means, literally, "chase-fowl." The sense is that attempting to collect taxes was like chasing chickens around the barnyard.

Over time the word came to mean any of a number of minor justice officials. The OED lists  "a sheriff's officer or sergeant, esp. a warrant officer who arrests for debt, a bum-bailiff. " Bum-bailiff is a term of contempt for a bailiff, particularly the one who arrests wretches for debt.

Example: From "Mutiny on the Amistad" by Donald Dale Jackson in Smithsonian, December 1997, quoting John Quincy Adams: "The Spanish, he continued, demanded that the President 'first turn man-robber ... next turn jailer ... and lastly turn catchpoll and convey the captives to Havana to appease public vengeance — the vengeance ... of African slave-traders despoiled of their prey and thirsting for blood.' "

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