[Bards] What is a bard?

John Hirling jhirling at gmail.com
Mon Jan 7 07:57:32 PST 2008

Hey all --

I'm sure the archives are filled with what follows.  Here are a few
dictionary definitions of 'bard' (not to be confused with OUR SCA sense of
'bard' :) )


1. (formerly) a person who composed and recited epic or heroic poems, often
while playing the harp, lyre, or the like.

2. one of an ancient Celtic order of composers and reciters of poetry.

3. any poet.

4. the bard, William Shakespeare.

[Origin: 1400–50; late ME < Celt; cf. Ir, ScotGael *bard,* Welsh *bardd,*Breton
*barz* < IE **gwrs-do-s* singer, akin to Albanian *grisha* (I) invited (to a

—Related forms

bardic, adjective

bardish, bardlike, adjective

bardship, noun

*Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1)
Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, (c) Random House, Inc. 2006.*

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*bard *

   1. One of an ancient Celtic order of minstrel poets who composed and
   recited verses celebrating the legendary exploits of chieftains and heroes.
   2. A poet, especially a lyric poet.

 [Middle English, from Irish and Scottish Gaelic bard and from Welsh bardd;
see gwerə-2 in Indo-European roots.]

*bard'ic** adj.*

*bard *

1449, from Scottish, from O.Celt. bardos "poet, singer," from PIE base
*gwer- "to lift up the voice, praise." In historic times, a term of contempt
among the Scots (who considered them itinerant troublemakers), but one of
great respect among the Welsh.

"All vagabundis, fulis, bardis, scudlaris, and siclike idill pepill, sall be
brint on the cheek." [local Scottish ordinance, c.1500]

Subsequently idealized by Scott in the more ancient sense of "lyric poet,
singer." Poetic use of the word in English is from Gk. bardos, L. bardus,
both from Gaulish. Bardolatry "worship of Shakespeare (the 'Bard of Avon')"
first recorded 1901.

*Online Etymology Dictionary, (c) 2001 Douglas Harper*

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* bard*


1.         a lyric poet
If anyone has an OED, I'm sure it is even more complete.

In my experience, the SCA generally uses the term to refer to anyone who
performs vocally. Many would include those who perform instrumentally and I
have actually competed in two Gulf Wars *Bardic* competitions dancing --
though it is a real stretch IMO to include dance under the rubric 'bard'
(however, the annual Welsh Eisteddfod includes and entire day of dance
competition).  Thus, we tend to conflate singers, poets, story tellers, in a
narrow definition of 'bard,' who are joined by instrumentalists, actors,
performance artist (for example, jugglers and those who practice
legerdemain)  and dancers under a broad interpretation.

Those who are interested in a more authentic persona play might find they
should more accurately be known as troubadours, skalds, minstrels,
trouveurs, jongleurs, poets, singers, thespians, and the like.

I think a good working definition of a bard (for SCA purposes) might be 'one
who performs narrative.'  Most, but not all, songs, poems, and tales meet
that criterion.  Some instrumental music does (if you don't think so, I'd
suggest listening to some Klezmer).  Some dance does so.  A juggler who
simply exhibits skill without more would not be a bard under my
definition.   Caveat: None of this should be confused with gate-keeping in
circles or competitions.

Your mileage may differ . . . as may mine after more reflection.

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