Q&A: “Gallivant” vs “galavant”?

Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week, the gallivant in the room…

Q: Hi AWC, I have a spelling question for you.

A: Okay.

Q: Which verb is correct: “gallivant” or “galavant”? I’ve seen both and it’s all very confusing.

A: It’s likely you HAVE seen both words “gallivanting” about the place – although one of them is definitely favoured.

Q: Phew! But why have two versions in the first place?

A: English evolves in mysterious ways.

Q: Fair enough.

A: Any guess as to how old you think the word is?

Q: Oh, Middle Ages surely – it always reminds me of a knight “galavanting” about the countryside on his horse.

A: You may be getting that idea from “Sir Galahad” – in the stories of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Or even the medieval fantasy show “Galavant” from 2015-16.

Q: Yes probably. So are you saying the word is NOT 500 years old?

A: That’s right. It actually only dates back to 1809. And this is where the spelling confusion probably began, because it is likely to have been an elaboration of the word “gallant”.

Q: Oh, as in to be brave or dashing. “A gallant soldier on his horse!”

A: Well that’s the adjective – and back in the 1500s, the noun “gallant” was indeed given to someone dashing or well-groomed. But by the 1600s, it actually became more about being a “ladies man” and gave rise to the verb “to gallant” – essentially synonymous with courting or wooing a woman.

Q: I tried to woo someone once. I dressed up as a ghost and everything.

A: Um, okay. 

Q: I also owned a 2009 Mitsubishi Galant, but it had no pulling power…

A: So anyway, “gallivant” is thought to have come along as a humorous elaboration of the verb “gallant” – with its original meaning in the early 1800s being to “gad about, spend time in frivolous pleasure-seeking, especially with the opposite sex.”

Q: It was all about flirting and naughtiness?

A: It was.

Q: Like a Casanova?

A: Exactly! And yes, Giacomo Girolamo Casanova lived in Italy from 1725 to 1798 and was known for being a “gadabout” and having many lovers. So it was definitely the right time period for flirting and naughtiness.

Q: So back to the original question – which spelling is correct?

A: “Gallivant” is considered the original and remains by far the most popular. But almost immediately, the variant “galavant” was used – this may be because the original Old French spelling was “galant”. Or perhaps it was influenced by the similarity of words like “gadabout” or even “Sir Galahad” during the 19th century.

Q: Can you use either spelling?

A: Most dictionaries will list “galavant” as a variation – but it is the far less common of the two. We would always recommend going with “gallivant” in your writing.

Q: Does it still mean the same thing today?

A: Not quite. There is more of an emphasis on travelling from place to place than the amorous nature of the original. For example, a woman might go “gallivanting across Europe” – it’s more about roaming freely than male-centric romancing. Although some dictionaries still differ on this.

Q: How so?

A: Well, Macquarie Dictionary here in Australia still lists the word as to go from place to place in a rollicking, frivolous or flirtatious manner.” Meanwhile, USA’s Merriam-Webster simply defines it as to travel, roam, or move about for pleasure or entertainment”. It lists the flirtatious meaning separately, calling it dated – and we’d agree.

Q: So, to recap, “gallivant” is the best spelling to use, and while it was once the domain of Casanova, these days its meaning is more likely to be found with adventure lovers rather than just lovers.

A: Exactly!

Do you have a question you’d like us to explore? Email it to us today!

Browse posts by category
Browse posts by category

Courses starting soon


Nice one! You've added this to your cart