Wednesday 30 March 2011


A toady, or yes-man, does not get his name because he crawls around like a toad, or because he is despicable like a toad. Toady is short for toad-eater, and it was a job.

Once upon the seventeenth century the world was filled with mountebanks and quacks who would tour around trying to sell their snake-oil cure-alls. To sell, they needed to prove their potion's efficacy, and for that they needed a toad-eater.

Toads, as everybody knew, were poisonous. So the toad-eater's job was to eat one and collapse into a shivering, floccillating heap. The doctor would then give the toad-eater a dose of his patent medicine and, before the eyes of the crowd, the toad-eater would regain his health.

Obviously being a toad-eater was not a great job. Whether or not you actually ate your toad or only pretended to, it was a pretty humiliating way of making a living.

A toad-eater called William Utting is recorded in 1629, and the word was shortened to toady in 1828, by Disraeli.

P.S. I know this all sounds unlikely, but the OED says it's true.


  1. I remember reading a novel in which someone was described as a "tufthunting toad-eater".

    You've now inspired me to look up tufthunting, which apparently means "the practice of seeking after, and hanging on, noblemen, or persons of quality, especially in English universities".

    1. What is the name of this novel featuring a tuft-hunting toad eater? I think I read it and it featured an earl's son refusing to eat treacle tart ?

  2. Have just found it - a short story by Robert Graves called Treacle Tart, which I think was in an anthology of school stories I spent a lot of time reading as a child. Link here -