Word of the Week (140): PALFREY (probability 19451), by David Sutton

A PALFREY was a type of riding horse popular in the Middle Ages, especially for a lady. It derives from the Latin paraveredus, a post horse or courier horse. The groom who looked after a palfrey was called a PALFRENIER, and there is an adjective PALFREYED, mounted on a palfrey.

There are several other old words for types of horse that are well worth knowing. A DESTRIER was a large, powerful horse used in war, such as might be ridden by a knight in armour. A ROUNCY, in contrast, was a sturdy but poorly-trained nag, a horse fit for the lower classes. A SUMPTER was a pack horse, or beast of burden. A JENNET, GENET or GENNET was a small Spanish horse or 'jenny donkey', not to be confused with a GENET or GENETTE, a small carnivore belonging to the civet family.

A PHILHORSE is a Shakespearean word for a fill-horse or thill-horse, that is, the horse in a team nearest to the carriage. (A THILL is the shaft of a vehicle).

It doesn't quite fit with the others, but a mention of a SCHIMMEL, which is from the German and means a roan horse, allows me to put in a plug for a very fine nineteenth-century German novel by Theodor Storm, 'Der Schimmelreiter' ('The Rider on the White Horse'), which tells the ultimately tragic tale of Hauke Haien, a dyke-master in a small town of Northern Frisia.


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