In India, beggars don't do anything and ask for money. But here, I see this specific practice to ask for money (in foreign countries).

Check this guy

playing guitar for money

he works harder, shows his skills and asks for money

Well, it's not limited to playing some instruments. At times, they do better job than professionals.

See this video


My question is, morally, I feel that the word 'beggar' for the latter ones is quite offensive. What do native speakers call them? Are they still beggars? If so, I'll still need some better alternative to separate them from our beggars in India! I will never call them beggars (because, being an Indian, I have a different image of a beggar). In fact, I respect them more than many professionals I find around me!

Note: no charity from the beggars/money-seekers is involved in any case.

  • 8
    This is not an answer to your question, but may be related: a "panhandler" is also a person who asks for money by appealing to the charity of passerby, but maybe it has less of a negative connotation to you as "beggar" does.
    – Yee-Lum
    Commented Sep 24, 2015 at 6:12
  • 7
    There's an unwritten rule that if a busker makes you stop and watch/listen, you should put some change in the case. He literally just earned it.
    – corsiKa
    Commented Sep 24, 2015 at 14:35
  • 14
    Busker or street performers. They aren't begging.
    – user15138
    Commented Sep 24, 2015 at 19:51
  • 7
    This is a technicality, but I wouldn't say this street musician is "asking for money;" I would say he is "accepting donations." Most street musicians I've seen leave the case open, but rarely (if ever) directly ask for a contribution. That may vary by location, however.
    – J.R.
    Commented Sep 24, 2015 at 20:33
  • 8
    Keep in mind that beggars don't do their 'job' for fun, before talking down on them. They're still people, and deserve to be treated with some respect.
    – Sanchises
    Commented Sep 24, 2015 at 22:00

4 Answers 4


I would call all sort of artists that are performing in the public for free or donations "street performer".

I found another word, "busker", but I never heard of it before.

  • 23
    The word "busker" (meaning a street performer) is common in British English. It's also used in Canada, parts of the east coast of the US, Southern California, and probably other parts of the US, but is less common.
    – Yee-Lum
    Commented Sep 24, 2015 at 6:09
  • 1
    But dictionaries say that busker is specifically for a person performing music and nothing else.
    – Maulik V
    Commented Sep 24, 2015 at 7:29
  • 28
    In the UK anyone doing some kind of performance would be called a busker, including people who paint themselves gold and pretend to be a statue etc. We wouldn't tend to call a portrait artist a busker, if they only work on demand, but if someone was drawing a picture on the ground, with chalk, that would be considered busking. Basically anything where the person is "continually doing something" and will happily take money for it is called busking. Commented Sep 24, 2015 at 11:19
  • 5
    @MaxWilliams The usage you describe is not universal in the UK, though it is common enough to make it into the OED. I, for one, would only use "busker" for somebody performing music or perhaps for something such as stand-up comedy or magic. I wouldn't describe a street artist or an I-expect-you-to-give-me-money-because-I-painted-myself-gold-and-stood-still person as a "busker". Commented Sep 24, 2015 at 12:49
  • 1
    @Yee-Lum I live in Southern California, and I've never heard the word "busker" before. That may just be me, though
    – Jojodmo
    Commented Sep 26, 2015 at 5:15

Beggar refers to someone who is unemployed and depends on asking (begging) people passing by for money. Those who do give them money do so out of charity.

Busker refers to a street performer (could be music, art or drama) who performs for anyone walking by in the hope that many will pay them for their time. It could be their only source of income, or just a side job. Those who give them money do so because they consider the busker to have provided them some valuable entertainment.

The OED shows the earliest uses of busk with this sense are from the nineteenth century in Britain. While this doesn't fully explain the inconsistent awareness of the word within the US (as seen in the many comments below!), its relative recency compared to the divergence of US English does help explain in part why it is more common within Commonwealth English.

  • 13
    @MaulikV That's debatable, Wiktionary for example only says "(often by playing a musical instrument)". Street clowns and magicians could be called buskers, at least in AusEng. Commented Sep 24, 2015 at 7:55
  • 15
    I call b-boys, taggers, circus acts. quick painters, sketch artists - essentially anyone who performs in the street - buskers. I'm British.
    – JMB
    Commented Sep 24, 2015 at 10:20
  • 44
    Be aware that "busker" might not be a familiar word to your audience -- I'm a native US English speaker and don't remember ever hearing that word in my life. I would call them a "street performer" or "street artist"
    – Chad
    Commented Sep 24, 2015 at 14:41
  • 7
    @JMB What do you use "tagger" to refer to? In the US, tagging is writing your name or symbol on something with graffiti, and is illegal. Just curious what the other word uses are.
    – JPhi1618
    Commented Sep 24, 2015 at 15:49
  • 9
    Busker is not unusual usage in the US in my experience. I've heard it many times. Street performer to me means someone other than a busker, such as a mime, dancer, or magician.
    – barbecue
    Commented Sep 24, 2015 at 22:41

I think you are drawing a distinction between

  1. An otherwise capable individual who asks for money for him/herself by appealing to your mercy (begger) and
  2. Someone offering something of value (their art) for money.

I would say "street performer" would be the right word for the second kind. It's simple, direct and well understood.

  • 4
    +1 for street performer as more respectful that busker, but would personally use street artist.
    – T. Kiley
    Commented Sep 24, 2015 at 15:44
  • 2
    @T.Kiley - performer might be a better word if the person was, say, a juggler instead of a guitarist.
    – J.R.
    Commented Sep 24, 2015 at 20:31
  • 2
    Not very relevant on ELL, but in germany, we say Straßenkünstler which directly translates to street artist as well. Commented Sep 25, 2015 at 13:26


A mendicant (from Latin: mendicans, "begging") is one who practices mendicancy (begging) and relies chiefly or exclusively on charitable donations to survive.

I first saw this word when I was a teenager. It was in the novel "Citizen of the Galaxy", by Robert A Heinlein, referring to beggars. It also referred to a "mendicant's license", meaning you can stand or sit on the street and not be hassled by the cops if you had a license to beg.

  • 6
    It isn't really any more respectful; it means "beggar", just fancier. Commented Sep 24, 2015 at 17:42
  • 10
    Mendicant doesn't imply performing for tips. It is almost entirely synonymous with beggar, except that it tends to be more often used as an adjective than an noun. When it's used as a noun, it tends to refer to someone who has forsaken all possessions and survives on alms
    – ColleenV
    Commented Sep 24, 2015 at 18:15

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