A “codger” is an old man, especially one who is eccentric or a curmudgeon.
The word probably comes from “cadger,” the name of itinerant dealers who traded in butter and eggs and so on, which they transported by pack-horse. “Cadger” dates from the 1400s and was referred to in Robert Henryson’s The Morall Fabillis of Esope, circa 1450.
There is a theory, unfortunately sometimes offered as actual fact, that “codger” is related to falconry. Elderly falconers were given the job of carrying frames, called “cadges,” used to transport falcons. These men were called “old cadgers” and later, “old codgers.” There is no evidence for this theory.
It is worth noting that “codger” is Turkish for “old man” but, since there are no known sources that point to “old codger” being of Turkish origin, it seems safe to dismiss that as merely an unrelated coincidence.
“Codger” may well be derived from “cadge” and is probably simply a dialect variation of “cadger,” and originally, in the 1700s, meant a stingy, miserly old man. In parts of England the two words were used interchangeably, though in other regions they were separate words, one meaning “beggar” and the other “eccentric fellow.” The latter meaning is the one used in David Garrick’s farce Bon Ton, 1775: “My Lord’s servants call you an old out-of-fashion’d Codger.”
The “beg or borrow” meaning of cadge was in use as a general term for “obtaining without payment” and only later became used in terms like “cadge a lift.” It was applied to beggars, smugglers, and tramps (leading to the modern use of the verb “to cadge” to mean “to beg”).
By the early 1800s, any ne’er-do-well who made a living by questionable means might be called a cadger. William Hone’s The Every-day Book, 1825, lists that meaning: “A rosinante [a worn-out horse], borrowed from some whiskey smuggler or cadger.”
Men who fell on hard times and had to resort to any means to get enough food were often too old to find work. A cadger was probably a gray-haired character wanting to borrow or steal. A codger was a peculiar chap, and both were likely to be old. “Old codger” is likely to be the linguistic merging of all those images.
The word has softened over the years, and today “codger” is a fairly affectionate word for an older man.
So, is a female codger a codgette?