I don’t know how I got here, but here I am.
Every now and then a word springs to mind that’s just odd enough that I’m compelled to look into its origin. Today, for reasons unknown, that word is gallop.
It’s a common enough word and we use it without much thought referring to horses, but I felt it was worth turning to my favorite website etymonline.com to see what they had to say. And while gallop has a somewhat interesting history on its own, it’s the words that fell beneath it on the website that caught my attention. Let’s get into it.
The word has been around since the 1500s and means “to move or run by leaps.” This sounds about right, though I could do without ‘running leaps’ when sitting astride. I think we all can. The word is believed to come from the intriguing Frankish word walalaupan, meaning, “to run well.”
This brings us nicely to…
When I think of this word, I think of my horse walloping me in the head with his head (unintentionally of course). And that is the correct usage, but in the 14th century, it also meant “to gallop.”
“Lightening and I are going for a wallop through the hayfields,” you might say in the old days. What fun.
My mom used to call me a great galumph if I tripped or stumbled, and it means “to move in a clumsy, ponderous, or noisy manner.”
In 1871, Lewis Carroll coined this word in his book Through the Looking Glass, in reference to the Jabberwock. It’s a blend of the words gallop and triumph. However, back then, it meant “to prance about in a self-satisfied manner.” The very thing your horse would do if you came a cropper during your wallop across the hayfields.
As an aside, Carroll also created the word chortle, which is a combo of chuckle and snort, and it can be found in the very same place as galumph.
Next up we have the adjective desultory. In the late 1500s, it meant “skipping about, jumping, flitting,” but according to my Oxford dictionary, it means “lacking purpose or enthusiasm.” On the surface, those things seem to be opposing, however, I suspect flitting about does lack purpose.
The word is derived from the Latin word, desultorius, meaning “hasty, casual, superficial.” Much the same as the above. But what, pray tell, does this have to do with horses?
I’ll tell you.
Desultorius is derived from the noun, desultor, which is a circus performer who jumps from the back of one horse to another while they are galloping. It can also be a person who can leap from chariot to chariot whilst moving at speed.
Well, I had no idea.
And finally, we have the word destrier. This was not found on the same page as the above, but when I learned the word desultory it made me think of destrier, probably because they both start with a ‘D’.
A destrier, or destrer, depending on how you feel about the letter ‘I’, is a, “riding horse of a noble breed, war horse.” That word has been around since the 1300s. It comes to us from Old French by way of Vulgar Latin with the word dextrarius,which means “led by the right hand.” As it happens, noble war horses were led by the right hand until they were wanted in battle. Not much has changed, then, other than swapping battlefields for show rings.
And there you have it. A list of curious words related, in one way or another, to horses. Isn’t it always the way?