Etymology of the word brocket: historical examples
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The earliest surviving record of the word is in a late 12th C poetic context. The Vulgate Latin hinulus in Proverbs 5:19 was glossed with Old French brochet in the sense of ‘a male fawn’ or to be precise here ‘a calf’. This was in the Bible commentary of Alexander Nequam, the Anglo-Norman Abbot of Cirencester—d 1217:1
Nequam: hinnulus ceruulus in gallico brochet
Nequam translated: hinnulus means ‘a male calf’, brochet in Old French.
Vulgate translated: … as the most loving hind and the most pleasant calf …
To set this in context, following are the usual terms for the main types and stages of British deer:
|Young||Adult female||Adult male||British Latin (male)|
|Roe||fawn, kid||doe||buck||capriolus, cheverellus|
Nequam was writing in Latin, here and there adding Old French glosses. Classical Latin for the adult females was: cerva, dama and caprea. He may have glossed hinulus with cervulus—the young of the red deer—because it was in the immediate context of cerva—a hind. Three of the 5 other instances of hinulus in the Vulgate were specified by cervorum—of red deer. This was perhaps unexpected since they were in the immediate context of capreae—roe does. Its other 2 instances were specified by capreae—of a roe doe:
Vulgate: … capreae aut hinulo cervorum … Translated: … like a roe or the male young of harts … (Song of Songs 2:17; 8:14)
Vulgate: … sicut duo hinuli capreae gemelli … Translated: … like two young male twins of a roe … (Song of Songs 4:5; 7:3)
Hinulus could thus signify any species of young male deer and if there were a need to be more specific, the kind of deer would usually be mentioned—up to at least 1287. Although Nequam glossed cervulus in Proverbs as brochet, the latter likewise could signify any species of young male deer, as illustrated by surviving written records from the 13th C—from as little as 6 years after Nequam’s death.
Nequam is the first source for the word brochet in dictionaries of Old French. But so many other records have been lost that too much attention should not be given to earliest known survivors. Since brochet existed at the end of the 12th C, what would have prevented it from existing at the start of the century, or indeed many centuries before that? Such a word is unlikely to have been coined only in the 12th C.
That the earliest surviving record of the word was poetic doesn’t alter the fact that the word was essentially a hunting term. Deer were indigenous to Britain, but hunting was for the Norman landowners. Red and fallow deer were strictly protected; killing their young was a punishable offence.
The Normans’ word brocket may well have been the word most used in England for young deer from the 11th C, whether for fawn, calf or adolescent. Anglo-Saxon agricultural vocabulary continued in use but the Northern French of the ruling incomers became the language of the law and the hunt.2 Old English just had the usual 3 animal categories for deer: young, adult female and adult male, and these may only have entered hunting terminology as English ‘moved up the social scale’.3 But rather than displacing the Anglo-Norman word the Old English calfe gradually nudged brocket up to refer to the adolescent stage between young and adult.
This is perhaps discernible from the known examples of the word in British Latin—most, if not all, occurrences of which related to young fallow deer:Read more
Translation: The king to Brian of the Isle greetings! We order you to give John de Erlegh eight fallow does and two fallow bucks in our forest of Blakemor or two fallow bucks’ brockets to be placed in his park of Duston.
1237: mandatum est Ricardo de Wrotham quod in parco de Brugewauter capi faciat .iiij. damos scilicet brokettos & .vj. damas & poni faciat in parco Regisde Newton’ ad ipsum parcum de Newton’ instaurandum.5
Translation: Order to Richard de Wrotham to cause four fallow bucks to be caught in Brugewater park, that is to say brockets, and six fallow does and have them placed in the king’s park of Newton in order to stock that park.
1245: Venacio capta sine waranto. Dominus Gwydo de Rocheford cepit in parco de Bricstok’ in vigilia Purificacionis beate Marie anno eodem vnam damam et vnam broket dame … Dominus Iohannes de Plesset’ cepit in Gatesle die sancti Botulfi abbatis anno eodem vnum damum et vnum broket dami.6
Translation: Venison taken without warrant. Sir Gui de Rochefort took a doe and a fallow doe’s brocket in the park of Brigstock in the vigil of the Purification of the Blessed Mary in the same year (1 Feb 1245/6) … Sir John de Plessis took a buck and a fallow buck’s brocket in Gatesley on the day of St. Botolph the Abbot in the same year (17 Jun 1247).
1247-8: Henricus filius comitis Leycest’ cepit in Bolax die sancti Martini anno tricesimo secundo vnum broket dami. Gwydo de Rocheford cepit in parco de Bricstok’ ad festum sancti Andree vnam broket dami anno eodem … Gwydo de Rocheford cepit vnam broket dame in parco de Bricstok’ circiter festum sancti Mathie apostoli … Anno tricesimo tercio … Willelmus de Cantelupo cepit in Barnegraue vnam damam etvnam broket dame et vnum cheuerel. Henricus filius comitis Leycest’ cepit die apostolorum Simonis et Iude anno tricesimo tercio vnam damam et vnum fetonem in balliua de Rokingham’.7
Translation: Henry the son of the earl of Leicester took a fallow buck’s brocket in Bulax on St. Martin’s day in the thirty-second year (11 Nov 1247). Gui de Rochefort took a fallow buck’s brocket in the park of Brigstock on the feast of St. Andrew in the same year (30 Nov 1247) … Gui de Rochefort took a fallow doe’s brocket in the park of Brigstock about the feast of St. Matthias the Apostle (24 Feb 1247/8) … In the thirty-third year … William de Chanteloup took a doe and a fallow doe’s brocket and a roe in Barnegrave. Henry the son of the earl of Leicester took a fallow doe and a fawn in the bailiwick of Rockingham, on the feast of the Apostles Simon and Jude in the thirty-third year (28 Oct 1248).
1255: conuictum quod in uigilia sancti Edmundi martiris anno etc. tricesimo quinto circa horam nonam duo mastini domini S. de P. scilicet unus fuscus et unus niger inuenti fuerunt in bosco dicti S. apud H. dilacerantes unum brokettum uulneratum in dextera hanchia.8
Translation: … judged that on St Edmund the martyr’s eve year 35 about 9 pm two mastiffs belonging to Lord S de P., a brown and a black, were found in the wood of the said S at H savaging a brocket wounded in the right haunch …
1276: mandatum est Radulfo de Sandwico quod in parco Regis de Odiham habere faciat venerabili patri . Ricardo Bath’ & Wellen’ Episcopo viginti damas & Brokettos viuos ad parcum suum de Dogmerefeld inde instaurandum de dono Regis.9
Translation: Order to Ralph de Sandwic to cause the venerable father Richard bishop of Bath and Wells to have 20 live fallow does and [fallow] brockets in the king’s park of Odiham in order to stock his park of Dogmerefeld, of the king’s gift.
1287: … hynulus cerui …10
Translation: … a calf …
Note: The Glossary entry says: Hynulus: the fawn of a hind or doe… The word, of which the classical form ishinnulus, was not used only of the fallow deer, for in the Nottingham Forest eyre rolls of 15 Ed I, we have the words hynulus cerui.11
Its use with different adult qualifiers may well indicate that brocket referred to all stages of the young animal. A fallow doe’s brocket would have referred to a fawn or calf still with its mother and a fallow buck’s brocket to the slightly older animal who had left to join the males. However, the use of feto and hinulus for ‘fawn’ and ‘calf’ by the middle and end of the century suggests that brocket had perhaps by then begun to take on the adolescent meaning.
Hunting was the sport of kings and nobles; courtiers elaborated a stylised ritual with its terms and protocols. Prominent among those terms were animal names and particularly for the red deer, the centrepiece of the hunt. Refinements were coined not just for its stages between calf and adult, but for a number of adult stages too. By the time of two 14th C literary hunting manuals written for the king’s court brocket had been narrowed down to refer to:
- red deer
- a young red deer of a particular year.
Which particular year varied however:Read more
Middle English original: Now wyl we speke of the hert and speke we of his degres that is to say the fyrst yere he is a Calfe. the secunde yere a broket the iij. yere a spayerthe .iiij. yere a stagg the .v. yere a greet stagg the .vj. yere a hert At the fyrst hed
Modern English translation: We now turn to the hart and his stages. The first year he is called a calf, the second year a brocket, the third year a spayer, the fourth year a stag, the fifth year a great stag and the sixth year a hart of the first head.
Hunting Manual: The Maistre of Game13
Middle English original: And the first yere that thei bene calfed thei bene called a Calf. the secounde yeere a bulloke and that yere and so forth go to Rutte the .iij. yere a broket the .iiij. yere a staggard the .v. yeere a stag the vj. yere an hert of .x and than at arst is he schaceable
Modern English translation: The first year that [harts] are calved they are called a calf, the second year a bullock, and in that year they join the rut, the third year a brocket, the fourth year a staggard, the fifth year a stag and the sixth year a hart of ten and only then can he be hunted.
These Middle English refinements carried through to later works: W Harrison for instance said a brocket was a stag in its 2nd year,14 but Blome said the 3rd year.15 And when lexicographers rely on Middle English—or later dependent—sources, rather than earlier Old French and British Latin ones, they can be misled.
The origins of these two hunting manuals show that the word brocket was originally a northern French word. It was first written in Middle English by 1307-27, although the earliest surviving attestation is c 1410.
The word brocket was common in Britain through the Middle Ages when life was predominantly rural—it has a place in a modern, single-volumed word-list of medieval British16—but it became gradually rarer as life became more urbanized. In some areas it was obsolete well before 1881:
Its use in Britain in the 20th C in this sense was an archaism, but the word was still regularly included in dictionaries, even smaller ones like Chambers Reader’s Digest Universal Dictionary.20 But those orientated towards usage did not have it, like Collins Cobuild,21 BBC English22 and Concise Oxford23—it is not a word of today. The authority on British deer de Nahlik24 did not mention the word and Vesey-Fitzgerald25 considered it arcane:
The American Mazama meaning was a 19th century development, first recorded 1837. Some dictionaries, like the Concise Oxford English Dictionary now give this as the only current meaning, as in the Encyclopedia Britannica‘s entry for Brocket:
Page Last Updated: April 7, 2020