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Washington, United States
loves: you win if you guessed "pets" and "museums". Also books, art history, travel, British punk, Korean kimchi, bindis, martinis, and other things TBD. I will always make it very clear if a post is sponsored in any way. Drop me a line at thepetmuseum AT gmail.com !

Monday, May 12, 2014

robert southey muses on the dog in english

Romantic poet Robert Southey has been seen here at the Museum before.  Today we've got part of a letter in which he muses on how the English uses their animals as figures of speech, in which I came across the idea of a "horse-godmother" for the first time.
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. . . I may here notice a remarkable use which the English make of the word horse. They employ it in combination to signify any thing large and coarse, as in horsebeans, horse-chestnut, horse-radish;—sometimes it is prefixed to a man's name as an epithet of ridicule; they say also horse-ant and horseleech; and, by a still stronger compound, I have heard a woman of masculine appearance called a horse-godmother.
Dog is used still more strangely in almost every possible sense; the wild rose is called dog-rose; the scentless violet, dog-violet. Jolly dog, is the highest convivial encomium which a man can receive from his companions; honest dog, is when he superadds some good qualities to conviviality; sad dog, is when he is a reprobate; dog is the word of endearment which an Englishman uses to his child, and it is what he calls his servant when he is angry; puppy is the term of contempt for a coxcomb, and bitch, the worst appellation which can be applied to the worst of women. A flatterer is called a spaniel, a ruffian is called a bull-dog, an ill looking fellow an ugly hound; whelp, cur, and mongrel, are terms of contemptuous reproach to a young man; and if a young woman's nose turns upward, she is certainly called pug. . . 

from Robert Southey, Letters from England (G. Dearborn, 1836) p. 398

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