He treated her in a cavalier manner.

which does cavalier mean:


as a brother would


without care

cavalier is defined as

: marked by or given to offhand and often disdainful (see DISDAIN entry 1) dismissal of important matters
a cavalier attitude toward money
has a cavalier disregard for the rights of others
capitalized : of or relating to the party of Charles I of England in his struggles with the Puritans and Parliament
portrayed the plantation owner as a cavalier fop
capitalized : of or relating to the English Cavalier poets of the mid-17th century

Sense 1 and 2 seem to suggest "without care", and Sense 3 seems to suggest "polite".

debonair in Sense 2 is defined as

a debonair performer
  • 2
    You should be able to answer your question yourself from those dictionary definitions.
    – BillJ
    Commented May 3 at 6:26
  • 1
    To treat someone in a cavalier manner or fashion always means to treat them disdainfully (definition 1). It's always a bad thing. Commented May 3 at 8:05
  • 2
    @BillJ How? The dictionary gives multiple contradictory definitions. Commented May 3 at 10:22
  • @TannerSwett By the definition that matches the intended meaning of your example sentence.
    – BillJ
    Commented May 3 at 11:44
  • 3
    @BillJ But if one doesn't know which of the multiple contradictory meanings was intended, how does one figure it out? -- It might be obvious to you, a native English speaker, but how would it be apparent to an English Language Learner?
    – R.M.
    Commented May 3 at 12:30

2 Answers 2


Without care

But, archaically, politely.

A cavalier was originally (1580s) a horseman, usually a military cavalryman or knight. However, at that time, knights were in transition from medieval killing machines to sophisticated courtiers. So, to be cavalier was to act in the way a knight would: polite and courtly but also debonair, off-handed and a little bit reckless - especially with money.

Then the English Civil War happened and “cavalier” was the term used to describe the King’s men (“roundhead” was used to describe the Parliamentarians). The King lost and lost his head so only the pejorative contraction survived because cavaliers were losers.

  • 1
    Thanks. debonair in sense 2 of cavalier also has multiple senses itself. (1) debonair seems to have all the senses of cavalier, correct? (2) Do some senses of debonair overlap (is synonymous) with some senses of cavalier? Why create sense 2 "debonair" of cavalier? (3) is debonair also mostly used to mean lighthearted and nonchalant, instead of suave and urbane?
    – Tim
    Commented May 3 at 5:41
  • 1
    @Tim not exactly. Debonair is the light side of cavalier. Put it this way Carry Grant was debonair, Errol Flyn was cavalier.
    – Dale M
    Commented May 3 at 7:10
  • 1
    To be precise: The Parliamentarians called the Royalists 'Cavaliers' to imply a comparison with fierce Spanish cavalry ('caballeros') fighting the Protestants in the Netherlands. However, Charles I refused to regard it as an insult, saying "A Cavalier is nothing but a gentleman serving his King on horseback". Commented May 3 at 8:00

You are approaching the question in the wrong manner. When a word has multiple meanings, some of which overlap, and the word has nuances as a result of that overlap, the only way to determine the meaning is from context. You cannot discern much of a context from a single simple sentence like

He treated her in a cavalier manner.

Who is "she"? The barista making his espresso? The concierge at a hotel? A woman he was out on a first date with? The woman policeman who pulled him over for speeding in his Rolls Royce?

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