sorrel nag

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yuechu

Senior Member
Canada, English
Hello,

I have a question regarding the term "nag" which is used in Swift's Gulliver's Travels, Part IV (1726). The nag is clearly a horse (of sorrel colour), but I am unsure of which definition(s) would have been used in that time period (nor could I find any clues in the context as to which one it would be). Dictionary.com gives the following:

nag 2 [nag] noun 1. an old, inferior, or worthless horse.

2. Slang. any horse, especially a racehorse.

3. a small riding horse or pony.





Would anyone be familiar with equestrian terminology/the term "nag"?

Thanks!
 
  • owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    On the rare occasions when I've heard somebody use the word "nag" for "horse", it was always used to describe old, decrepit horses. Swift, living in the eighteenth century, might have used the word with a different meaning.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    The OED's entry suggest that the meaning in Swift's day was a small riding horse or pony, and nag did not have the more modern meaning of an old or worthless horse.
     

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Yes, I suppose it is not always possible to identify in old texts whether the implication "decrepit" is present, and the OED doesn't distinguish very clearly between examples in the senses "small horse", "horse" and "decrepit horse". However, of the OED's many examples going back to the 14th century, the only one that clearly contains the implication "decrepit" is the most recent one, from 1998.
     
    Last edited:

    yuechu

    Senior Member
    Canada, English
    Thank you all for your replies! I think you are right--it must be a small horse/pony here (which is also supported by its etymology, being related to the Dutch word for "small horse").
     
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