Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Word Origins and Hunting

A repost from 2005.

Anything that has been around a long time will generate a few words and phrases, and that's true for hunting as much as sailing ("posh", "pay the devil", etc.) or market trading ("pig in a poke", "cat out of the bag", etc.).

A few phrases derived from hunting in general and fox hunting in particular:

  • To be "in the pink" originally meant to be in the swankest possible fox hunting gear, designed by the London clothier, Mr. Pink.
  • The term "flying start" originally referred to a horse speeding up after the fox was spotted, with the idea that the horse was already going at some speed before it switched into an even higher gear to keep up with the hounds.
  • "Staying power" is a term used to describe a hound that will pick up a scent, not lose the scent, and stay up with the fox.
  • "To toe the line" meant a hound following a hot scent and not casting about too far while looking for it.
  • "Red Herring" is a term for deliberate misdirection and may come from poaching and/or dog training. One story is that poachers were said to rub herring on their feet to mislead dogs put on their trail by game keepers. Another, perhaps related story, is that a red herring was chosen because dog trainers often used the pungent fish to create a trail when training their hounds. A "red" herring, by the way, is simply a smoked version of the fish.
  • "Soho" a section of London, is named after a term derived from a cry once used in rabbit hunting. The term dates to around 1307 and was yelled when the hunters had sighted the rabbit, equivalent to "Tally Ho" in fox hunting. The areas where Soho now occupies was once pastureland where hunting took place. The place name, which dates to 1632, derives from this hunter's cry. The "Soho" section of New York City is a mimic of the London place-name area, but is actually shortened version of "South of Houston Street. North of Houston street, of course, is called "Noho."
  • "A Fast Woman" is a woman who did not ride side-saddle, but straddled the saddle like a man.
  • "Hello" has only been used as a common greeting since the advent of the telephone. The first recorded use is from 1883. It does, however, have earlier origins in other senses. It is a variant of hallo, which dates to 1840 and is a cry of surprise. That in turn is related to halloo, a cry to signal that exclamation used by a hunter to signify that a fox has been seen breaking into the open. Halloo dates to about 1700, but a variant, aloo, appears in Shakespeare's King Lear about 100 years before that.
  • "The brush off" refers to removing a fox's tail as a trophy at the end of hunt -- a signal that it was time to pack it up and head back to the barn.
  • "A Majority Whip" is a term that originated in Parliament in the mid-19th century and is a shortening of ‘whipper-in,’ who is the huntsman’s assistant in charge of keeping the hounds from straying by driving them back with the whip into the main body of the pack.
  • "Go to Ground" refers to a fox that takes to a hole to avoid the hounds that are pursuing it.
  • Corduroy is derived from the French ‘cord du roi’, and was once woven from silk and was used exclusively by the kings of France as part of their hunting costumes

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