touch the forelock

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Masha*, Jul 10, 2007.

  1. Masha* Senior Member

    Russia: Russian
    When reading novels about England of the 19th century I have once and again read that servants (coachmen, grooms) in response to their master’s order say
    “Yes, my lord” and touch their forelocks. For instance:

    “Off-side leader has a strained fetlock, sir,” the coachman said.
    “Yes, I noticed. Take them here. My head groom’s a wizard with fetlocks.”
    The coachman touched his forelock, “Aye, m’lord. Thankee, sir.”

    What does this gesture mean? Obedience
    Thank you in advance1
  2. Haylette Senior Member

    UK, English
    The forelock is the hair at the front of as horse's face (where humans have a "fringe").
    I would say that this gesture is sort of like raising your hat to someone, in which case it is a sign of respect, but it could mean obedience also.
  3. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    It is, I think, a sign not only of obedience but of subservience - an acknowledgement of the forelock-toucher's humble place in the class structure.

    See also forelock tugging

    (Humans have forelocks too.)
  4. Haylette Senior Member

    UK, English
    I just found this at I think it explains what I mean better than I did :)

    Idiom: pull the forelock (touch the forelock, tug the forelock)

    • To raise one's hand to the forehead as a sign of respect or subservience to someone.
  5. Lis48

    Lis48 Senior Member

    York, England
    English - British
    It´s the equivalent of raising your hat as a salute if you are not wearing a hat. So would more apply to a farm labourer or servant who would not always wear a hat, so infers lower class. Hatless, you would touch the front of your hair instead in deference as respect but not necessarily obedience. Here it is just a thankyou for the complement he´s been paid.
  6. palomnik Senior Member

    It's a sort of informal salute, showing respect.
  7. Haylette Senior Member

    UK, English
    (Humans have forelocks too.)[/quote]

    Didn't know that, I come from a horsey family :)

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