Every self-respecting horse person owns a curry comb, and we use it diligently on our horses to remove the remnants of a mud bath, erase sweat marks and/or give a mini-massage to our beloved partners. It’s a handy utensil and an asset to our grooming kit and our horse’s hair.
But why is it called “curry”?
For the sake of brevity, we will leave cooking out of this conversation and focus our attention on horses.
The word curry has been around for 800 years or so and means “to rub down or groom a horse.” It comes from the French word correier,which means to put order to, prepare or arrange. This makes perfect sense as to why it’s called the curry comb because we are rearranging the horse’s hair into a more ideal direction.
There has been some controversy, however, over this comb. Back when I was little, the curry comb more closely resembled a bike peddle than something you’d use on your horse. My 2007 Penguin dictionary describes a curry comb as, “A metal comb with rows of teeth or serrated ridges, used to curry horses.” Sounds pleasant. I’m sure every chestnut mare would love to see you advancing with that in your hand.
My Pony Club Manual from 1976 says, “The Rubber Curry Comb that is now on the market can be used most effectively on the horse…” This quote suggests that the rubber curry comb was a novel tool in which to groom your horse in the 70s. It also hints that perhaps we should use more capital letters in our day-to-day writing.
Cleary, the modern-day curry comb is neither brush nor comb, but if we think back to that metal contraption, it was more of a comb than a brush. Brushes have bristles, not rows of serrated teeth, while combs, according to my faithful dictionary, are a “toothed instrument.” The name “curry comb” was a direct transfer from the metal version to the rubber and those rubber knobbly bits resemble teeth more than bristles, which is why it remains, forever and always, a curry comb.
My mom was the queen of clichés and in turn, so am I. The excessive use of clichés in the Berry household is probably what sparked my interest in the origin of things as they are generally kind of odd. To curry favor is a classic idiom and one that I use often.
If you give your horse copious amounts of treats before you get on in the hopes he won’t buck you off, you are currying favor. It means to gain favor by way of flattery or attention or in our case, horse treats.
What does curry favor have to do with horses, other than the word curry? Everything, as usual.
In the 14th century, a man by the name of Gervais du Bus wrote a an exceedingly long poem called Roman de Fauvel. It’s a satirical allegory riddled with symbolism mocking society and those that have an insatiable need for power and influence no matter the consequence. It was the direction du Bus saw France heading after the death of King Philip IV in 1314.
A super brief synopsis
Roman de Fauvel has more than 5,000 verses, so we’ll just glaze over the ins and outs of it all.
The story goes…
A chestnut horse name Fauvel grows tired of his stable and moves into his master’s house. Over time he makes his way to the top floor and has the place remodeled to better suit his needs. He soon gains power, not only over the house, but also the surrounding area. Leaders of the church, monarchs, rulers and other such high-ranking members of society make pilgrimages to see Fauvel. Together they care for him, making sure his every whim is met and keeping him well-groomed, shiny and clean. Fauvel is so powerful and such a tyrant that his care, specifically his grooming, is done not so much out of the kindness of anyone’s heart, but rather to keep on his good side. They were, currying Fauvel.
Skipping to the end.
Things take a bit of a downward turn as Fauvel grows more beastly over time and morphs into a man with the head of a horse. He is a devote follower of the Antichrist and destined to father children as powerful as he, and they will eventually destroy the world.
Fauvel to Favor
In medieval France, chestnut horses were often used as metaphors in fables to symbolize cunning and deceit, so when we learn that favel in Old French means flattery, guile and deception things start to fall into place, but if we add that fauvel in Old French was a dun or fallow color we know why du Bus named the chestnut horse Fauvel.
I could go on about the name/word fauvel, and its relations, but shall refrain from boring the pants off you. But, if you are into symbolism or you have an essay to write for your English class that focuses on symbolism, might I suggest Roman de Fauvel as your subject matter.
Over the years, as is always the case, we’ve morphed the name Fauvel into favor.
Roman de Fauvel today
Originally, the poem came in two volumes and had 3,280 verses but in 1318, a fellow by the name of Chaillou de Pesstain decided to add a further 1,800 verses to the poem as well as 169 musical items and 77 images.
Today, Roman de Fauvel is beautifully bound into a single, though substantial, volume and kept at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris as one of France’s greatest treasures.
That is a lot of work for a two-word phrase. Next time I want to write about clichés I’ll watch Casablanca.