Difference between peripatetic, itinerant and nomadic

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7055

Member
American English
What is the difference between these words? I know they have different etymologies, but they all seem to have come to mean the same thing: of someone who moves around or travels alot

'After graduating college, Dan lived a peripatetic/itinerant/nomadic lifestyle, never living in one state for more than a year'

Are they all interchangeable? Are there any semantic nuances between them?
 
  • Chez

    Senior Member
    English English
    They do seem very similar, but I can discern nuances. In my view:

    * peripatetic suggests moving from point to point for a purpose (a music teacher who teaches in different schools on different days of the week could be called peripatetic: his work demands that he go from place to place, for a reason)
    * itinerant suggest moving around with no reason, simply drifting (beggars or homeless people can be called itinerant)
    * nomadic suggests a cultural tradition (nomadic tribespeople move from place to place, traditionally to find the best feeding for their cattle)
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    An additional point to consider: Many people will not be familiar with the word "peripatetic."
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    Peripatetic is in common use in Britain, but does not involve someone moving home at irregular intervals.

    I would certainly relate "itinerant" to moving around (moving home) for work purposes, but these days you'll more often hear "migrant" used instead of "itinerant". "Nomadic" is more related to home life (nomads don't have a permanent home). However the boundaries between "itinerant" and "nomadic" are blurred (if there is a boundary at all) and I think either could be appropriate for Dan.
     

    Linkway

    Senior Member
    British English
    In BE, a peripateti teacher normally has a single employer, eg the local education authority, who sends them to different schools for specific lessons such as music.
    They could be in permanent full-time employment with that LEA. They are usually of fixed abode.

    An itinerant worker moves from place to place, often to different parts of the country, seeking temporary work, eg a seasonal farmworker who moves to new areas as different crops become ready for planting or harvesting.

    Regarding nomadic lifestyles, eg in parts of the Sahara and in East Africa, I would also draw attention to the concept of "digital nomad" - someone who can work from anywhere with a good internet connection and is able to move from country to country whenever they feel like it, especially with "freedom of movement" within the European Union.
     
    Last edited:

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    An additional point to consider: Many people will not be familiar with the word "peripatetic."
    Many people working in schools in the UK are likely to have heard it, because it is widely used for experts who teach specific musical instruments and move from school to school to deliver their lessons to individual pupils, as Linkway just explained.

    I would not use it in any other way, for instance to describe a lifestyle as the OP suggested.
    I definitely think nomadic has a strong cultural overtone, but is also usable in a more general sense too.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I had a good friend, a Laplander, who described her childhood as following their herd of reindeer. I always referred to her situation as being "nomadic". I am not sure that "nomadic" works for people who move around within prescribed area.

    Gypsies move around to almost anywhere they want to go. The Laplanders all seem to stay within a certain area (mostly in Finland) but they moved beyond borders all the time and probably into Russia at some points.

    (The Chernobyl melt down and the subsequent radiation streams contaminated all the reindeer herd rendering the meat worthless and bankrupted her family.)
     
    Many people working in schools in the UK are likely to have heard it, because it is widely used for experts who teach specific musical instruments and move from school to school to deliver their lessons to individual pupils, as Linkway just explained.

    I would not use it in any other way, for instance to describe a lifestyle as the OP suggested.
    I definitely think nomadic has a strong cultural overtone, but is also usable in a more general sense too.
    Yes, 'nomadic' is applied to retired couples that tour North American in mobile homes, spending seasons in various states.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    I definitely think of nomadic people moving in response to seasons within a particular region. Peripatetic sounds more random and aimless to me, someone who wanders from place to place or is constantly on the move. Itinerant, to me, describes someone who moves in order to find work, such as crop pickers who go to different parts of the country where their skills are needed depending on when crops ripen.
     
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