Author Topic: NOTES ON THE WORD HENCHMEN  (Read 18 times)

Louis Phillips

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« on: August 02, 2020, 09:13:43 am »

Henchmen. What a shivering producing word, as in the following  paragraph from Time Magazine (April  14, 2003):

 “Even if the U.S. manages to kill or imprison Saddam and neutralize his henchmen, including sons Uday and Qusay, the allied faces with a tough task uprooting the rest of the regime.”

In a letter to The New York Times Book Review
(Sunday, August 2, 2020), Paul Einstein wrote
that “Andrei Zhdanov was one of Stalin’s most
notorious henchmen.”

Aha! You might think that henchman or henchmen might crop up more than once in Shakespeare’s plays, but  there are no henchmen to be found, not even in Macbeth or Julius Caesar.but in fact  the word  henchman occurs only one time in all of his plays, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act II, Scene 1, line 487:

    Do you amend it then; it lies in you:
Why should Titania cross her Oberon?
I do but beg a little changeling boy,
To be my henchman.

        As for the origin of the term or at least its backstory, I turned to the Reverend A. Smythe
Palm, a scholar at Trinity College in the latter part of the 19th Century. The Reverend’s study
Of Folk Etymology (published as a book in 1882)
deals with verbal corruption (a rich phrase that!) or words perverted in form or meaning by false derivation or mistaken analogy. Reverend Palm asserts that henchman is possibly or probably from hens’ta-ma, a horseman or groom, from Old English hengst, a horse.

 Eric Partridge in his book –Origins: A Short
Etymological Dictionary of Modern English—
corroborates the relationship of the term
to horse. Hengst plus Man.

 Thus,  a henchman was a person
you would trust to groom your horses, then
perhaps a person to ride with you.

Becke Davis

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« Reply #1 on: August 02, 2020, 11:36:53 pm »
Very interesting, Louis. While I knew in general what a henchman is/was, I love the background details. Thank you!