AskDefine | Define peddler

Dictionary Definition



1 someone who travels about selling his wares (as on the streets or at carnivals) [syn: pedlar, packman, hawker, pitchman]
2 an unlicensed dealer in illegal drugs [syn: pusher, drug peddler, drug dealer, drug trafficker]

User Contributed Dictionary


Alternative spellings


  1. an itinerant seller of small goods; a hawker
  2. a dealer in illegal drugs

Extensive Definition

A peddler, in British English pedlar, also known as a canvasser, solicitor, or monger (with negative connotations since the 16th century), is a travelling vendor of goods.


The origin of the word, known in English since 1225, is unknown, but it might come from French pied, Latin pes, pedis "foot", referring to a petty trader travelling on foot.
Peddlers usually travelled by foot, carrying their wares, or by means of a person- or animal-drawn cart or wagon (making the peddler a hawker).
Modern peddlers may use motorized vehicles to transport themselves and their commodities. Typically, they operate door-to-door or at organized events such as fairs.
In many economies this work was often left to nomadic minorities, such as Gypsies, travellers, or Yeniche, offering a varied assortment of goods and services, both evergreens and (notoriously suspicious) novelties. Peddlers sometimes doubled as performers, supposed healers, or fortune-tellers.
While peddlers had a significant role in supplying isolated populations even with fairly basic and diverse goods such as pots and pans, horses, and news, their market share has in modern times been drastically reduced as increasing density of population and buying power encouraged sedentary, even specialized sales points, while modern transport, mail order, refrigeration and other technology allow even rural clients alternative channels of purchase.
Tinware was manufactured in Berlin, Connecticut, as early as 1770, and tin, steel and iron goods were peddled from Connecticut through the North American colonies- the Connecticut clock maker and clock peddler was the 18th century embodiment of Yankee ingenuity.
In the United States, the era of the traveling peddler probably peaked in the decades just before the American Civil War. The large advances in industrial mass production and freight transportation as a result of the war laid the groundwork for the beginnings of modern retail and distribution networks. Further, the rise of popular mail order catalogues (e.g. Montgomery Ward began in 1872) offered another way for people in rural or other remote areas to obtain items not readily available in local stores.
India has special laws enacted, by the efforts of planners which give mongers higher rights as compared to legitimate businessmen. For example, mongers have a right of way over motorized vehicles.
In the modern economy a new breed of peddler, generally encouraged to dress respectably to inspire confidence with the general public, has been sent into the field as an aggressive form of direct marketing by companies pushing their specific products, sometimes to help launch novelties, sometimes on a permanent basis. In a few cases this has even been used as the core of a business and on a large scale.

Types and specific names

Literal compounds formed from these synonyms are:
Metaphoric compounds, since the 16th century mostly pejorative, formed from these synonyms are: Names, most archaic, of product- or industry-specific types of peddlers include:
Names, some pejorative, of other sub- or supertypes or close relatives of peddlers include:
  • Huckster
  • Pusher
  • Door-to-door salesman
  • Travelling salesman
  • Seller
  • Haberdasher
  • Although there are basic similarities between the activities in the Old World and the New World there are also significant differences. In Britain the word was more specific to an individual selling small items of household goods from door to door. It was not usually applied to Gypsies.
  • Food traders were normally badgers
  • sellers of chapbooks were chapmen; compare the term Stationer which described a bookseller (usually near a university) whose shop was fixed and permanent.

Sources and references

Popular Fiction and its Readership in seventeenth Century England
peddler in German: Hausierer
peddler in Spanish: Buhonero

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

arab, cadger, chapman, cheap-jack, cheap-john, cheapjack, colporteur, coster, costermonger, duffer, hawker, higgler, huckster, monger, pusher, roadman, sidewalk salesman, vendor
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