Monday, July 15, 2013


Meaning: a house-guest who stays three nights or more; in times past, after the third night the host had the same legal responsibility for them as for any other member of their household.

Usefulness: 1 (I've had house-guests* almost every day this year, and they all stayed at least three nights. I wish I'd known I could have called them hoghenhines.)

Logofascination: 1 (Etymologically, it's a bastardisation of Middle English aȝen hine or oȝen hine - own servant.  There is something appealing in the notion that ancient laws held that three nights was enough to know someone. In a few word books, it has jumped from the legal responsibility for a guest - as for one of your household - to popular definitions like 'one of the family', or 'a member of one's family'.)

In the wild: Mrs Byrne lists it as agenhina, "a guest at an inn who, after having stayed for three nights, was considered one of the family". Karl Hagen does rather a good job of correcting this, although he fails to locate the source of her reference to an inn. Here we turn to historymike who quotes more of the original source than the OED does; The Country Justice says that agenhina "is used in ancient Saxon Laws for him that cometh to an Inne guest-wise".  To give Mrs Byrne her due, she traced her words to original sources wherever possible, and considering she worked on her dictionary during the 1950s and 1960s while touring as a concert pianist, I think she can be forgiven. I do wonder at Eric McKean's "a member of one's family" (Weird and Wonderful Words, 2002), although it is qualified with "chiefly in legal contexts". Even the OED adds "a member of a household; a dependant" to the definition, the semi-colons suggesting additional meanings. There are no citations for these, though, and certainly none for its use to denote a member of one's family. It seems to be one of those words whose usefulness and potential for expanded meanings appeals more to lexicographers than to the populace.

Degrees: 2

Connections: hoghenhine - household

Which is used in: G&P, Book the Second (Pantagruel), How Epistemon, who had his head cut off, was finely healed by Panurge, and of the news which he brought from the devils, and of the damned people in hell.
Suddenly Epistemon began to breathe, then opened his eyes, yawned, sneezed, and afterwards let a great household fart.
Much as I'd like to attribute 'household fart' to Sir Thomas, it's Rabelais describes it as "un gros pet de ménage", ménage of course being French for household. I'm trying to come up with a way to describe a hoghenhine, three-night stayer, as a ménage a trois.

*All very lovely people; I'd hate to in any way imply a correlation between their presence and the absence of posts. 

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