Etymology of brocket - The Broket Archive

Etymology of the word brocket

Overview: Before it was a name brocket was a word. The word was originally northern French, the name was originally English.

Note: This Archive spells the word as brocket, except in direct quotes from sources which spell it differently. Similarly, as a place name it is almost always given a ‘c’ before the ‘k’.

The word left northern France for England; we find it in Anglo-Norman, British Latin and Middle English but not in middle or Modern French. Its ‘young deer meaning appeared in England soon after the Norman conquest in 1066—possibly a little before—but would have been current in northern France long before.

Investigating the origins and development of the word brocket establishes the boundaries of the name. For the history of the name, see the separate page.

Contents of this page:

Related pages:

1. Introduction

The overriding meaning of the word brocket down the centuries has been a young male deer—usually with single-spiked antlers. During the last 200 years this meaning has given way to the tropical meaning of ‘species of Mazama—small deer with short single-spiked antlers from Central or South America, of any age. In Scotland the word had an additional meaning as a past participle adjective from a verb brook, when it was usually pronounced slightly differently. Other recorded meanings are local rarities.

Originally the English word was northern French, but between at least the 12-18th C it referred solely to British deer. From Old French it passed through Anglo-Norman and Middle English to Modern English, with a side track into British Latin. Examples illustrate this.

It is spelt in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). The second syllable et—was a diminutive, suffixed long before the word came into English, as with pullet ‘a young hen’ or hatchet ‘a small axe’. A diminutive of the Old French ‘piece of pointed metal’, it is a mistake to link it to the Old English ‘badger’.

The sounds of the consonants b, r, k and t have been stable since the word emerged. Other than a slight variation in the sound of the first vowel, the sound and form of the word have not changed throughout its history in English. Only exceptionally has it been spelt with two ts.

2. Meaning

  • brocket is a male noun and its earliest meaning in England—perhaps also in France—was ‘a young male deer‘. This was probably because of its single-spiked antlers, which can begin growing from 6 months old and last up to 24 months.
  • 14th and 15th C English courtiers refined the meaning down to the male red deer in his first year after being a calf, when he left his mother—his adolescence.
  • The rate of development of antlers varied depending on climate, richness of soil, etc. So by the end of the ‘brocket year’ his antlers could still have been single-spiked or have had several tines.
  • Moreover a ‘year’ could stretch from Spring one year right through to Midsummer the next.
  • Some hunting texts therefore defined the word brocket as a male in his 2nd year of life, i.e. a one-year old, others as a two-year old, i.e. in his 3rd year of life.
  • Some lexicographers said that the 3rd year meaning was incorrect, e.g. the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).
  • There was also an early plural female noun brochetes recorded in England in Anglo-Norman meaning ‘prickles of a hedgehog‘, but this form probably did not pass into English.
  • For other meanings see homonyms.

3. Sound

Compare: pocket IPA:
pocket IPA:
pocket IPA: with stressed 2nd syllable and so a different final vowel.

3.1. Consonants

The sounds of the consonants have been stable. But because the spelling of the k has varied, its sound needs a brief discussion.

   as in   he broke it   is a voiceless velar stop.

   as in   a diamond brooch   is a voiceless palatal affricate.

  as in   brochur, brochette   is a voiceless palatal fricative.

A sound shift of       to      or      is called palatalisation.

The IPA k sound of Latin cantare ‘to sing’ palatalised into English chant and French chanter. But k was a primary sound and often remained, as in English canticle and French cantique ‘hymn’. and were secondary; they didn’t evolve into k. Brochette could not have developed into brocket.


  • Modern English pocket and pouch; Middle English poket; Old French poke; Modern French poche.
  • Modern English crocket and crotchet; but Modern English crochet borrowed from Modern French.

In Latin—and Old French until the late 12th C—the symbol used to write IPA k was not k but c. But because during the 13th C c assumed the value of IPA s before e and i—as in cent ‘100’—k was spelt either by adding h to the c to make a digraph ch, as in Christus or simply by k. So while pre-12th C Old French scribes might have spelt as brocet, 13th C ones spelt it:

  1. brochet
  2. broket.
Occasionally k was spelt qu, as in Afrique,1 Nequam and broque—but broquet has not been found.

The spelling brochet in Old French therefore did not indicate earlier palatalisation and never represented anything but .

This Old French ch digraph for k continued as an anachronism in England before i and e and 13th and 14th C scribes there spelt the word brochet or broket. Since there was no word brotchet with a a brochet spelling was unambiguous, but Middle English nevertheless settled on the spelling broket. If they needed to represent the fricative after a short vowel, Middle English scribes usually doubled the c or ch, as in cacche and cachche.2 The widespread—and otiose—addition of c before the k was an Early Modern English convention, not standard before the 18th C.

3.2. Vowels

The sounds of the vowels have varied slightly:

  • The o sound is a back vowel, the e is front.
  • In Old French and Anglo-Norman the first vowel, at least in the feminine word brochetes, appears to have been short with the et syllable stressed: reflecting awareness of its original diminutive function.3
  • Passing into Middle English the first vowel took on the stress and became longer: as in the modern broke it.4
  • The first vowel then shortened during the Great Sound Shift to the modern .5
  • The sound of the second vowel remained constant in English.6 Sound shouldn’t be estimated from British Latin, a written or antiquated judicial, religious and administrative language, and enunciation of the word with endings like brokettus would not have reflected spoken language.
  • The first vowel of the Scottish brookit or brockit has varied between , and .

4. Form

The following simplified schema is not to be taken as a pedigree of descent. Based on written records it suggests probable development over time, with many variant spellings not included:

The et element was an Old French diminutive suffix, added before the word came into Middle English.

  • et chiefly occurs in Old French words adopted into Middle English, like pocket, crocket and brocket.
  • ette is similar, but usually adopted into English from Modern French, like brochette a small skewer or broach, and cigarette a small cigar.
  • Very occasionally, et or it is a variant of the ed of a past participle adjective, like the Scots druikit ‘drenched’ or brooked, broakit, brucket, bruikit, brockitspotted‘.
  • The suffix ard—as in French brocard—was not a diminutive. The form was a collateral development from broque, not directly in line with brocket.
Evolution of the word group without the suffix
brocchi projecting Latin Europe
broccha pointed metal piece Vulgar Latin Europe
broque pin, skewer Old French N France
broche pointed metal piece Old French N France
broke antler tine Middle English England
broach thin pointed object Modern English England
brooch jewel on a pin Modern English England
Evolution of the form with the suffix
brochet young red deer Old French N France
brochetes [hedgehog] spikes Anglo-Norman England
broket young red deer Middle English England
brokettus young red deer British Latin England
brocket young red deer Modern English Britain

4.1. The Latin stage of the form

Way back in the Dark Ages Latin speakers in Europe were using the word for something sharp and prominent. The first recorded form was as an adjective to describe projecting teeth: brocchi dentes.7 Perhaps it was Celtic in origin, as it is not found in Classical Latin.

The next recorded form was a feminine noun written broccha ‘piece of pointed metal’. This was in ‘Vulgar Latin’ when spoken Latin became ever more divided into local variants. This form carried on into Medieval Latin of the Middle Ages.8

4.2. The Old French stage of the form

After the 5th C the Vulgar Latin spoken in Gaul evolved into numerous dialects. Gaul’s northern dialects are usually grouped under the term ‘Old French’, divided into the likes of ‘Norman’, ‘Picard’ and the later ‘Anglo-Norman’ according to the way the language was spoken in these different areas.

The first recorded Old French form of     was Norman-Picard, written broque or broche. It is well attested in Old French dictionaries9 meaning ‘skewer, tine, spine, brooch’ etc, with other spellings broke, broce, broch.

While northern dialects did not palatalise k to ,10 continental Old French became , examples of survival of which into Middle and Modern French are:
   — broches       ‘the first antlers of the male roe buck, tusks of the wild boar’,11 and of the red deer too.12
   — brochet       ‘fish with a pointed snout’.13
   — brochette       ‘skewer’.14

From the Norman-Picard form came feminine and masculine diminutives:

    • brochete      ‘small spike, skewer, needle for parting the hair’ etc, attested in Old French dictionaries.15 It may have survived in Modern French broquette‘tack’, but not in brochette ‘skewer’—a continental Norman development from broque via broche with suffix ette. Imbs16 said broquette, first attested 1565, was a ‘forme normanno-picarde de brochette‘, although it is not cited in Robert.17 It was recorded once in Anglo-Norman in the plural meaning ‘prickles of a hedgehog’ in a historical text from 1136-7:18
      Cum est la pel del heriçun
      Espés de puinnantes brochetes
      Translation: just like the skin of a hedgehog
      thick with prickly spines.

      Although clearly a development of the general diminutive meaning ‘small spike’, as a feminine noun with an e ending indicating a diminutive and stress on the 2nd syllable et—this form may have emerged in England because the masculine had taken on the specific meaning ‘young male deer’. It did not survive into Middle English, unless perhaps as a fossil in the equally rare broketes (c 1440) ‘candlesticks’.

    • brochet      ‘young male deer’.19 This was a specific semantic development in Old French alongside the general diminutive meaning ‘small spike’, which was apparently reserved for the feminine.Many dictionaries20 cite an Old French spelling *broquet, but this appears to have been a reconstruction by Tobler-Lomatzsch,21 who only gave two sources:
      1. Nequam, whose mss in the BL do not in fact spell it this way.22
      2. Le Roman de Renart, where the words under discussion were actually broichat and brochat, Tilander arguing that they developed from brocard.23

4.3. The English forms

The first recorded form is brokettus in British Latin from 1223 but it would have been in spoken usage before. It was first written in Middle English by 1307-27, although the earliest surviving record—spelt broket—is from a hunting text c 1410.24 By the 19th C the spelling was brocket.

The Modern English broach and brooch, spelt broche in records from 14-18th C, ultimately also developed from Old French broque/broche. The main signification of broach is ‘thin pointed object’, e.g. bodkin, and is the same word as brooch, restricted by spelling to mean ‘jewelled ornament with a hinged pin and catch’.

Two other subsidiary and rare meanings of the plural broches/brokes are recorded in Middle English:

  1. tapers or candles: ‘Troches and broches and stondartis bi-twene’ (= torches and broaches and stands between).25 It had a diminutive variant.
  2. the first stage of a young stag’s antlers: ‘They beare not their first head which we call Broches … until they enter the second yere of their age’.26 This was the same as the Middle French broches.27 In The Maistre of Game from c 1400, meaning spike—despite being a translation from Middle French broches—it was spelt brokes, i.e. pronounced with the more ancient k.

5. brocket, crocket, pocket

Examples of the development of 2 rhymes, crocket ‘hook, curl, curled ornament, crook’ and pocket‘pouch-like compartment in clothing’:28

Modern English brocket crocket pocket
Modern French brochette, broquette croc, crochet poche, pochette
Middle English broket croket poket
British Latin brokettus crochettus, crokettus pochettus, pukettus
Anglo-Norman brochete croc, croche, croke poket, pochete
Old French brochet croche, croquet pochet

These words were not in Old English or other Germanic languages.

6. broc, bróc, croc, poc

These are completely different Old English words, found in neither Old nor Modern French:

Old English broc bróc croc poc
Modern English brock brook, broke crock pock, plural: pox
Meaning badger stream earthenware vessel pustule

To derive brocket from broc is like deriving pocket from poc ‘pustule’. That brocket ever meant ‘small badger’ is nowhere attested.

A rare Early Modern English diminutive of brook spelt brooket or broket——‘streamlet’ is recorded only from Leland in 1538:29 ‘A Broket or Pirle of Water renning out of an Hille nere the Toun’ and ‘A Broket cumming from an Hille therby’.30 Elsewhere Leland spelt it brooket: ‘at a litle brooket caullid Flokars Broke that ther cummith ynto Dee Ryver’.31 Leland frequently spelt brook broke. OED cited it under brooket.

7. Synechdoche and metaphor

The young deer appears to have received its name by synechdoche—a device to describe the whole by a characteristic part. The characteristic of its post-calf stage—the way hunters identified it—was its small, single-spiked antlers so it was called after them. Anglo-Norman aristocrats and their retinue out on the hunt used their Old French word brochet ‘small spike’ to refer to the whole adolescent beast.


  • poll in the sense of ‘hornless animal’ from poll meaning ‘head’.
  • Roundhead meaning ‘Cromwell supporter’ in the English Civil War from their short-cropped hair.
  • the German words Spiess meaning a ‘spike’ and Spiesser meaning a ‘young roe or red deer’.
  • the Scottish word spiker meaning a ‘two-year old red deer’. Spiker also means a mature male that should be culled because his antlers have not tined—they are still a single spike—and are therefore dangerous.32 The word is also used in New Zealand to refer to red deer (exported there from 1851): ‘a young spiker’.33
  • the word knobber meaning a ‘two-year old red deer’, from the knobs that precede its antlers.
  • Modern French brochet ‘long thin freshwater fish’ 34 i.e. pike, which have a pointed snout.

A metaphor is a device to describe something by what it resembles. Medieval candlesticks usually had 2 branches or spikes, resembling a brocket—as perhaps suggested by an isolated record from 1400-40 of broket in the plural meaning ‘candlesticks, torches or tapers’: ‘Preketes and broketes, and standertis by-twene’.35 This was in a different manuscript to the 1400-40 occurrence of broches with this meaning. One of the meanings of pricket here is similarly synonymous with torch.

8. Homonyms

In addition to the overwhelmingly predominant meaning of ‘young male deer’ there have been 4 local or rare meanings of the word brocket. Apart from the main Scottish one, they are rare curiosities. The heteronym broket is from brook.

8.1. spotted, streaked, variegated

This meaning has been well attested in Scotland—although now only in certain parts—as the past participle of a Scottish verb brook meaning to ‘become spotted [with soot or dirt], streaked [with tears or black and white]’. The Scottish National Dictionary gave an earliest date of 1578.36 Dictionaries cite cognates Danish broget and Norwegian dialect brokutt. It is spelt variously, e.g. brooked, brookit, broakit, brucket, bruikit, brewket, brocked, brockit, brocket:

‘sic a brookit bairn! What has she been blubberin about?’ And from 1820 Angus: ‘a limpin spaviet bruikit wicht’37 = a spotted creature limping from spavin.

The predominant pronunciation was (i.e. with the first vowel as in ‘moon’) with a short variant . It is not therefore strictly a homonym of brocket meaning a deer, however the vowel has been pronounced as in and hence spelt like it too:

‘My sister lost the brocket lam’ she got fae Tammie Durrit’ (1884) and from 1910 Peterhead referring to a century previous: ‘Oats were then mostly what was termed brocked oats…’38

The Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue recorded this meaning spelt brokit, brokkit, brocked.39 It also recorded broket with the usual English two-year old stag meaning. However in Scotland the word was also used as an attributive with hides—perhaps it was not forbidden to hunt them there?

‘For tua broket hidis to cover ane sadil’ (1503) and from 1508 Dunkeld: ‘Et per idem preceptum in lie brokathid Georgio Nesch vjs’ (= And by the same precept [pay] 6s to GN in brocket hides’).

A rare extension of the mixed-colour connotation was recorded from Ireland in the 1890s in a compound with ground: brocket-ground ‘a mixture of clay and boggy land’.40

8.2. clumsy

Another rare, early 20th C Scottish meaning, probably from Norwegian braaka ‘to break’ cited by the Scottish National Dictionary meant ‘strange, clumsy’: ‘he had a broket way aboot him’, ‘to gang brokin aboot’ = to walk in a heedless way knocking things over.41

8.3. a sea-lark

Two recorded dialectal instances from the Farne Islands near Holy Island off the Northumberland coast one from a Northumberland traveller in 1790 (or 1769) and another from a sailor’s word book in 1847.42

8.4. a broken bracket

Some late 20th C online specialised computer glossaries and dictionaries cite broket as a term for ‘angle or broken bracket’ i.e. < or >. This may be ephemeral jargon and is currently too much of a neologism to merit inclusion in mainstream dictionaries.

9. brocard, pricket, knobber

The French brocard and the English pricket are similar words to brocket in form and meaning. Knobber is the modern Scottish equivalent of brocket.

9.1. brocard

Brocard was a continental Norman development from Old French broque with suffix art, later ard. The OED gave brocard as the origin of brocket. This was a mistake and has been corrected in subsequent Oxford Dictionaries. Many other dictionaries still follow the OED, however; other works too like Reaney.43 The OED also cited an obsolete English synonym brocard (from 1607 and 1611). Although these cognates also mean ‘young red deer’ they are collateral developments, not variants or precursors ofbrocket.

Brocard is found in contemporary French dictionaries as small as Cassell’s and recorded from 139444 meaning: le chevreuil mâle ‘the male roe deer’. Le Petit Robert added: d’un an environ ‘about 1 year old’, however it can be qualified to mean an older one: ‘l’expression vieux brocard s’appliquant à un animal de plus de deux ans’.45 In modern French usage it can likewise refer to older male roe deer—with subsequent antlers—but without necessarily having to be qualified:46

  • [Le brocard] porte ses premiers bois, à quelques semaines près, de 12 à 23 mois.
  • Mais un même brocard peut présenter une croissance des bois très variable d’une année à l’autre.
  • Leur poids varie … de 300 à 600 grammes chez le brocard adulte en bonne santé.
  • … au stade adulte, on donne à ce type de brocard le nom …

The male roe and red deer of specifically 12-24 months in France are called daguet (from dague ‘knob or spike’, compare the English dag ‘unbranched tine of a young stag’ and knobber).

9.2. pricket

The equivalent of French brocard in English is pricket, although referring in Modern English and British Latin to both fallow and red deer, and in Scotland to roe.

Pricket or staggie was the term the authority de Nahlik used for a red deer in his 2nd year, but he also used it for fallow deer before their 2nd year.47 It was used of the 2nd year fallow in the New Forest48 and of the 2nd year red in Exmoor and the New Forest.49

Both Priketus dami/dame ‘pricket of a fallow deer’ and prickettus cerui ‘pricket of a red deer’ are found in the Nottingham Forest Eyre Rolls.50 The OED (under the first meaning of pricket) cited vnum Prikettum de Ceruo ‘pricket of a red deer’ from 1285.

There are a couple of records of pricket meaning ‘torch, taper’ comparable to a rare meaning of brocket, e.g. ‘Candelis and oer priketis be set on candelstikkis’.51

9.3. knobber

Collier’s Encyclopedia said a 2 year old male is called a knobber and a 3 year old a brocket.52 Buffon’s Natural History from 1781 said,53 ‘They take the name of knobbers till their horns lengthen into spears, and then they are called brocks or staggards’—brock here being a rare and obsolete contraction. The OED described a knobber, or knobbler, as ‘a male deer in its second year; a brocket’ with citations back to 1686, also from 1664 as ‘the bud or rudiment of the antler’ itself.

Page Last Updated: April 6, 2020


For full bibliographical details please see the sections Publications or Glossary.


[1] Pope 1934 pp 128, 275-7, 279, 455

[2] Pyles & Algeo 1993 p 138

[3] Brunner 1963 pp 26 §21.2

[4] Middle English Dictionary 2001; Brunner 1963 pp 25-31

[5] Pyles & Algeo 1993 p 171

[6] Pyles and Algeo 1993 p 173

[7] Plautus, d 184 BC, according to Robert 1993 vol 1 p 295a; OED under broach.

[8] Latham 1965 p 57

[9] E.g. Tobler-Lomatzsch 1925 vol 1 p 1155-7; Rothwell et al 1992 p 76; Robert 1993 vol 1 p 295a---attested 1121; Hindley et al 2000 p 93

[10] Pope pp 18, 487

[11] Robert 1993 vol 1 p 295b

[12] Le Petit Robert p 265.

[13] Robert 1993 vol 1 p 295b from 1268; Le Petit Robert p 265.

[14] Robert 1993 vol 1 p 295b from c 1180; Le Petit Robert p 265.

[15] E.g. Godefroy 1881-95 p 737, 1901 p 64, Complément p 381b; Tobler-Lomatzsch 1925 vol 1 p 1158; Hindley et al 2000 p 93

[16] 1975 vol 4 p 1001

[17] 1993

[18] Gaimar 1960 p 93 ll 2910-11


[20] E.g. Hindley et al 2000 p 94

[21] 1925 vol 1 p 1167a

[22] Hunt 1991 vol 1 pp 235-45

[23] Tilander 1923 p 44

[24] Kurath 1975-97 p 1195; Rothwell et al 1992 p 76, but their alledged variant breket was actually a scribal error.

[25] OED 1400-40

[26] A 1575 hunting text cited in OED

[27] Tilander 1932 p 37

[28] Sources: Latham & Howlett 1975- p 520; Rothwell et al 1992 pp 76, 124, 539; Godefroy 1881-95; OED.

[29] But cited in later works like Lower 1860.

[30] Hearne's 1799 ed vol 3 pp 132-3; L T Smith's 1964 ed vol 1 pp 301-2

[31] L T Smith's 1964 ed vol 3 p 91

[32] de Nahlik 1987 p 42

[33] Brander 1971 p 192, 99

[34] Le Petit Robert, attested 1260

[35] OED under pricket; Kurath et al 1954- under broket 2

[36] vol 2 p 277. OED brocked or brooked only 1793 or 96

[37] Wright 1896 vol 1 p 414

[38] Scottish National Dictionary1941 vol 2 p 277

[39] 1937 vol 1 p 361

[40] Wright 1896 vol 1 p 410; Scottish National Dictionary 1941 vol 2 p 277

[41] 1941 vol 2 p 281

[42] Halliwell 1847; T Wright 1858 vol 1 p 259; OED under brocket 4

[43] 1995

[44] Le Petit Robert 1993 p 264; Robert 1993 vol 1 p 295a

[45] Robert 1993 vol 1 p 295a

[46] Le Grand Gibier 2000

[47] 1987

[48] Vesey-Fitzgerald 1946 p 191

[49] Vesey-Fitzgerald 1946 p 182; Lloyd 1975 p 64

[50] E.g. dami in 1287, For. Proc., Tr. of Rec. no. 127; cerui in 1335, For. Proc., Tr. of Rec., No. 132, Roll 6d

[51] OED under pricket from 1398

[52] 1997 vol 8 p 19

[53] OED under brock sb4