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A Horse By Another Name
 By Winniefield Park   •   7th Jan 2018   •   1,456 views   •   0 comments


There are lots of different names for horses. Like the Inuit multiple words for snow, horses have been labeled by their type or use. The word we use for horse comes from Old English with its roots in ancient and Germanic and Norse languages. The word equine comes from the Latin equus.

There are many slang type or regional words for a horse as well. In the North American west, a horse was sometimes referred to as a cayuse. This is thought to be a from the Chinook people’s language, a group of first nations people living in the Pacific Northwest region.

The old west gives us a few more words for the horse as well. There are bang tails and broom tails. A bang tail has had its tail cut just below the hocks, and a broom tail is uncut. A bang tail would have been a horse that is broke and owned by someone, while a broom tail would be wild.

More regional words for horse come from Australia. A wild horse is called brumby and in some areas, a horse may be called a yarraman, a word with its roots in pidgin English - a mix of several languages mixed with English when people try to understand each other.

Chargers, palfreys, destriers, rouncies are words to describe specific types of horses and predate many of our specific words for breeds. Chargers were fast horses and destriers were war horses, while palfreys were riding horses, often for women. Rouncies were general purpose horses, not much more than ponies, used by those below the class of courtiers and other gentry.

There have long been racehorses and coursers too. A courser was a fast horse that may have been used for racing. The word comes from the French word corsier which means ‘fast horse, or charger’. Any horse, fast or slow can be called a mount, however.

Many horse words of course come from England when horses were used for transport and pulling power. A horse used for regular riding would have been called a hack. A bayard is also a common horse, and the word comes from the French name of magical horse given to Charlemagne.

We have words that specify the gender of a horse. These include stallion, mare, colt, filly, foal and stud. The word steed is familiar to most of us, and suggests a noble horse, fleet of foot and elegant. But, the word steed comes from the old English word for stud or stallion. It came to mean a high-spirited war horse, similar to how we would picture a steed today.

Cobs, steppers and sumpters were types of horses. Cob is a word that is still used to describe a sturdy, leg-at-each corner type of horse that might be ridden or driven. Steppers were so named for their high action and sumpters, a word with French origins, were pack horses, their drivers being called sommetiers. A dobbin was a farm horse. A hobby was a small, energetic horse. It was once spelled hobi, and comes from Latin roots.

Just as we might call a faulty car a lemon, people labeled less than desirable horses with names like screw, nag or plug. A screw is a British label for an old broken down horse. Jade is another archaic word meaning much the same, but started out as meaning a cart horse.

Plug is the North American term for the same. We think of nag as being similar, but nag originally specified a riding horse, rather than a draft horse.

Gee-gee is a slang word for horse, but it’s not unusual to hear little kids call a horse a gee-gee. A moke too, is slang, but make come from someone’s name.
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