QuickCheck: Is it true that a horse is the origin of the phrase 'to curry favour'?

SOME say it's not what you know but who you know that matters when you want to get ahead in life. This has led some to pull out all the stops when they meet someone important. You could say that they are trying to "curry favour" with them. It's an interesting idiom, "to curry favour," you would be forgiven to think that the origin of the phrase has something to do with food but you would be wrong.

The origin of the phrase has a distinct equine flavour that definitely is not meritocratic. Is this true?



The phrase "to curry favour" is actually a very old one, back from when English didn't really sound English to the modern ear.

The first recorded use of the term in English (where the meaning was to seek to gain favour by flattery or attention) was in the early to mid 15th century.

However, its roots actually stretch further back than that. The first of its constituent parts - "to curry" - has nothing to do with any spicy dish that you may enjoy dunking your roti canai in.

Curry in the gastronomical sense entered English from the time of the British Raj. It's actually of Tamil origin (no surprise there) and it simply means “sauce” or “relish for rice”.

In our context, however, “curry” entered English from a completely different language, French - Old French to be exact.

The original word was “correier” and meant to put in order or prepare, and was specifically used to refer to the act of grooming a horse.

By the time it entered English in the 1200s, it was written down as “core” or “currey”.

Now for the second part of the phrase “favour”, this is when it gets a bit complicated. In its original context, favour was actually a proper noun, as if it was someone's name. And the name of this particular someone was Fauvel.

In the early 14th century, a clerk at the French royal chancery wrote an epic satirical romance poem that was over 3,000 lines long called "Roman de Fauvel”.

It was a very politically charged poem that was spread out over two books and was very popular in its day.

The romance follows Fauvel, who is a fallow-coloured horse, and his rise in the French royal court. Through him, the poem criticises the self-serving hedonism and hypocrisy of the French court and the country's ruling class.

Since Fauvel has become such an important character in the story, many of the supporting characters try to woo him through flattery. Basically, they groom (or curry) Fauvel to get what they want.


1. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/curry%20favor#h1

2. https://www.writerscentre.com.au/blog/qa-why-curry-favour/

3. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Roman-de-Fauvel

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