Monday 17 December 2012


The single most surprising word I came across when writing The Horologicon was feague. It's the rudest word in the book by quite some way, so I put it in the preface. Here for your delectation and disgust is a simple, extended quotation from the fourth page of the book.

There is a single eighteenth-century English word for shoving live eels up a horse’s arse. Here is the definition given in Captain Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue:

FEAGUE. To feague a horse; to put ginger up a horse’s fundament, and formerly, as it is said, a live eel, to make him lively and carry his tail well; it is said, a forfeit is incurred by any horse-dealer’s servant, who shall show a horse without first feaguing him. Feague is used, figuratively, for encouraging or spiriting one up. 

There are three instructive points to be taken from that definition. First, you should never trust an eighteenth-century horse dealer. Especially if you’re a horse. Or an eel.

 Second, the English language is ready for anything. If you were to surprise a Frenchman in the act of putting a conger up a mare’s bottom he would probably have to splutter his way through several sentences of explanation, filled with circumlocutory verbocinations. However, ask an English-speaker why they are sodomising a horse with a creature from the deep and they can simply raise a casual eyebrow and ask: ‘Can’t you see I’m feaguing?’

 The ability to explain why you’re putting an eel up a horse with such holophrastic precision is the birthright of every English-speaking man and woman, and we must reclaim it.

Thirdly, and finally, you will notice that that definition is not from the Oxford English Dictionary. Though the OED is the greatest and heaviest reference work yet devised by man, it does not necessarily touch the sides of the English language. In the case of feaguing, the OED does actually quote Grose, but rather coyly only mentions only the stuff about ginger.

And if that is not enough to make you scamper to the bookshop and buy, here is a lovely review from John Lloyd at The Book Bag.

And here is another review by virtue of video:


  1. Sir Terry Pratchett introduced me to this word, through usage if not definition. It's nice to have a context by which to understand it now. Mark, you continue to impress and amaze.

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