Burgess

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The noun burgess (pronounced with the stressed first syllable as in 'bird', and a second vowel like that in 'is' and 'it'; IPA: /ˈbɜː<su>r</sup> dʒɛs/) is derived from the same etymological root as burgher and bourgeois: burgh. It is not a feminine form.

  • The basic meaning of the common noun burgess, like that of 'burgher' and 'bourgeois', is 'citizen of a burgh'.
    • In English history, however, burgess came to be used of citizens deserving respect - the more established members of the community - particularly those who paid all their dues and in consequence had full rights; those who would by the nineteenth century be called ratepayers.
    • A burgess was even in some towns a Freeman, and the word became the title, or part of the title, of a number of posts in different municipalities.
      • Until about the eighteenth century, members of the House of Commons elected as representatives of boroughs or other corporations, including the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, were often called burgesses. This use was adopted in the then North American colonies, where in Virginia and Maryland, before Independence, the lower house of the legislature was known as The House of Burgesses. (See also bicameral.)
  • As a proper noun, Burgess is a surname, and sometimes as a place-name derived from an eponymous person, like Burgess Park in London, named after the first woman Mayor of Camberwell, Councillor Jessie Burgess; and the town of Burgess Hill in Sussex, named after the Burgeys (or 'Burgess') family. Users of AWE may come across some well-known references to individual proper nouns:
    • in Geology, the Burgess Shale is a formation of Cambrian rock in western Canada which is famous for its remarkably richness in fossils of soft-bodied creatures. The site is named for the Burgess Pass and Mount Burgess, both named for Alexander MacKinnon Burgess, Deputy Minister of the Interior of Canada (1883-97).
    • in modern history, Guy Burgess (1911-1963) was a communist spy, whose defection from the British Embassy in Washington to Moscow in 1951 with Donald Maclean (1913-1983), in fear of arrest, started the unmasking of the 'Cambridge Spies', a group of idealists at Cambridge University during the 1930s who became members of the Communist Party and worked to overthrow capitalism. Others included Kim (Harold Adrian Russell) Philby (1912-1988), a journalist and member of MI6; Anthony Blunt (1907-1983), wartime member of MI5, and distinguished historian of art and Surveyor of the King's (later the Queen's) Pictures; and John Cairncross (1913-1995), civil servant (in wartime at Bletchley Park, 5,000 of whose Enigma decrypts he passed to the USSR, helping it win the battle of Kursk).
    • in literature, Anthony Burgess is the pen-name of John Burgess Wilson (1917-1993)). He was a phenomenally prolific writer ("no single publisher could publish as fast as he could write" [ODNB), best known for A Clockwork Orange - a futuristic tale of drug-fuelled violence, source of the scandalous film by Stanley Kubrick (1962), which both Burgess and Kubrick later disowned - but he would have preferred to be remembered as a composer, and indeed wrote many pieces, ranging from songs to symphonies, for orchestra, jazz combos and indigenous Malaysian instruments. He was also a writer on linguistic matters (Language Made Plain published in 1964, and A Mouthful of Air: Language and Languages, Especially English in 1992), and wrote a two-volume autobiography, Little Wilson and Big God, Being the First Part of the Confessions of Anthony Burgess (1986) and You've Had Your Time, Being the Second Part of the Confessions of Anthony Burgess (1990).