Peasant vs farmer

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Norm

Senior Member
Spanish - Argentina
could anyone tell me the difference between peasant and farmer?
Thank you!
 
  • Andreyevich

    Member
    Australia/Britain - English
    A peasant is a social position - much like a "serf" in a feudal system - they are servants who are bound to their land. They serve under a Lord, and must farm the land in order to fulfil their duty.

    A farmer is not a social position, it is a profession. A farmer is a free person, who owns a real farm.
     

    Sedulia

    Senior Member
    **Literate** American English
    I remember trying to explain to my Chinese teacher from Beijing that an American farmer (I was remembering those castle-like red barns and vast fields in Wisconsin) was certainly not a peasant. I'm not sure he understood the difference.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Andreyevich has given a very useful generalisation.

    There are variations in usage of both peasant and farmer that make the difference difficult to define without context. The OED extracts below illustrate this.

    peasant:
    A person who lives in the country and works on the land, esp. as a smallholder or a labourer;
    In specific contexts the term may be variously defined. Although modern sociologists agree that a peasant works the land, the more wealthy peasants may also be landowners, rentiers, hirers of labour, etc., and in these capacities share interests with completely different social groups.

    farmer:
    One who cultivates a farm, whether as tenant or owner; one who ‘farms’ land, or makes agriculture his occupation.
     

    Andreyevich

    Member
    Australia/Britain - English
    Andreyevich has given a very useful generalisation.

    There are variations in usage of both peasant and farmer that make the difference difficult to define without context. The OED extracts below illustrate this.

    peasant:
    A person who lives in the country and works on the land, esp. as a smallholder or a labourer;
    In specific contexts the term may be variously defined. Although modern sociologists agree that a peasant works the land, the more wealthy peasants may also be landowners, rentiers, hirers of labour, etc., and in these capacities share interests with completely different social groups.

    farmer:
    One who cultivates a farm, whether as tenant or owner; one who ‘farms’ land, or makes agriculture his occupation.
    Yes, my outline was very general - in reality, it will not always be "black and white". For instance, peasants are not necessarily all "slaves" or "servants". Many peasants, as Panjandrum mentions, are able to gain wealth. A prime example of this would be the Kulaks of Russia, who were perceived as being capitalists, due to their attained wealth. These men were considered "peasants" in the sense that they did not really have a social status, although they could also be described as farmers, due to their occupation and independence.

    Peasants are not necassarily uncommon nowadays - many peasants are found in China, due to the fact that these peasants cannot attain much wealth, and are "bound" to their lands.

    I would say that the term "peasant" describes a lifestyle and social status, whereas the term "farmer" would refer more to one's occupation. That's my general rule of thumb, anyway...
     

    ThomasK

    Senior Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    I have been trying to find out the etymology, but I seem to run into trouble because the 'farmer' concept does not seem to be universal (not everyone combines tilling the land with animal husbandry). The other aspect is that some words like 'peasant' have a pejorative ring. I suppose it is not always the case with "peasant", or is it?

    I also found references to 'churl', which seems to have been the key word before the word 'farmer' was introduced. I have also come across "boor", positive as opposed to yeoman? 'Farm(er)' seems neutral, and even positive, if there can be a "beauty farm", I suppose: I suppose it is viewed as a place where things are created.
     

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    Many years ago I had to translate a book on 20th-century Russian history from French into English. Living in rural France, I knew that the French word paysans (from which peasants is derived) translates as farmers or country folk, and is in common use. However, when I tried to use this knowledge in my translation, the author explained that in the Russian context the correct word was peasants; the distinction was that a peasant (synonym serf) is landless, and is employed by the landowner, with few if any rights. See #3. Russian peasants became collective farmers at the Revolution, though whether their material status changed I don't know. A farmer is independent, self-employed, whether he owns the land or rents it.

    There are still landowners in France who seem not to have realised this. The local marquis was brought up in court a few years ago for trying to insist that his tenant farmers buy their feed and fertiliser through him, not on the open market. He lost the case.
     

    london calling

    Senior Member
    UK English
    'Churl' is a very old-fashioned word. I'm pretty sure nobody uses it these days (if not when writing a novel set in Medieval times...).
    'Boor' has come to mean a rude person, see this thread:

    boor

    'Yeoman' to mean 'farmer' is a rather old-fashioned term too. Here's the WR Dictionary entry: as you will see it has other meanings as well.
     

    ThomasK

    Senior Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    "(…) the distinction was that a peasant (synonym serf) is landless, and is employed by the landowner, with few if any rights. See #3. Russian peasants became collective farmers at the Revolution, though whether their material status changed I don't know. A farmer is independent, self-employed, whether he owns the land or rents it.

    There are still landowners in France who seem not to have realised this. The local marquis was brought up in court a few years ago for trying to insist that his tenant farmers buy their feed and fertiliser through him, not on the open market. He lost the case.
    That might be why farmers are considered to have more status, I suppose. Doesn't have that a negative ring, though less than "boor"?
     

    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    Both 'boor' and 'peasant' are insults these days. I read that boor comes from the Dutch for farmer 'boer'. A war was fought in South Africa between the Dutch settlers, the Boers and the British.
     

    london calling

    Senior Member
    UK English
    I read that boor comes from the Dutch for farmer 'boer'. .
    In a roundabout sort of way.:)

    etymonline.com:

    boor (n.)
    early 14c., "country-man, peasant farmer, rustic," from Old French bovier "herdsman," from Latin bovis, genitive of bos "cow, ox." This was reinforced by or merged with native Old English gebur"dweller, farmer, peasant" (unrelated but similar in sound and sense), and 16c. by its Dutch cognate boer, from Middle Dutch gheboer "fellow dweller," from Proto-Germanic *buram "dweller," especially "farmer" (compare German Bauer), from PIE root *bheue- "to be, exist, grow." "A word of involved history in and out of English, though the ultimate etymology is clear enough" [OED]. In English it often was applied to agricultural laborers in or from other lands, as opposed to the native yeoman; negative transferred sense "one who is rude in manners" attested by 1560s (in boorish), from notion of clownish rustics.
     

    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    I have been trying to find out the etymology, but I seem to run into trouble because the 'farmer' concept does not seem to be universal (not everyone combines tilling the land with animal husbandry). The other aspect is that some words like 'peasant' have a pejorative ring. I suppose it is not always the case with "peasant", or is it?
    Persons fitting that description in Latin America still are referred to as "peasants," although that usage might be declining in politically correct usage.
    In any event, it certainly is not complimentary.
    See, for example: For the Peasants of El Salvador, Promised Land Seems to Recede
     
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