Ever bartered and bargained you way to a steal of the century? Or perhaps you ended up with a little more than you bargained for? Tim Bowen drives a hard bargain with this competitively-priced word of the week.

Type the word bargain into a search engine and you will find a host of websites offering bargain holidays, electrical goods at bargain prices, bargain offers and so on. In all of these cases the meaning suggests that the items in question are offered at an advantageous, even cheap, price and that the purchaser will get a very good deal. And a bargain was originally a deal or agreement, with the implication that it was arrived at after a certain amount of negotiation, even haggling. The use of bargain to mean ‘deal’ can be found in a number of expressions, notably to keep your side of the bargain (to do what you agreed to do), to drive a hard bargain (to negotiate firmly in order to get the best deal) and into the bargain, as in ‘You can avoid delays and save yourself money into the bargain’ (in addition). But be careful. You may get more than you bargained for, means that you will get something different from what you expected, usually something worse.

Bargain is thought to originate from an Old French verb meaning ‘to haggle’. Its current principal meaning of ‘a good deal’ or ‘something much cheaper than expected’ can come with or without haggling.