I’m already halfway through Privy Seal – His Last Venture (see this post)—old Fordie does know how to keep you reading—and I’ve run across one of those etymologies that make me goggle in wonderment. (As always these days, I must add the proviso that I’ve probably seen it before and forgotten all about it.) One of the bombastic characters (there was a lot of bombast in the sixteenth century) says, “No pothicary had done it better nor Hercules that was a stall groom and cleaned stables in antick days.” Surely he means “antique,” thought I, and then it came to me: antic must be derived, somehow, from antique. I looked it up, and so it was; here’s the (still unrevised) OED explaining how:

Etymology: apparently < Italian antico, but used as equivalent to Italian grottesco, < grotta, ‘a cauerne or hole vnder grounde’ (Florio), originally applied to fantastic representations of human, animal, and floral forms, incongruously running into one another, found in exhuming some ancient remains (as the Baths of Titus) in Rome, whence extended to anything similarly incongruous or bizarre: see grotesque n. and adj. Compare Serlio Architettura (Venice 1551) iv. lf. 70 a: ‘seguitare le uestigie de gli antiqui Romani, li quali costumarono di far..diuerse bizarrie, che si dicono grottesche.’ Apparently, from this ascription of grotesque work to the ancients, it was in English at first called antike, anticke, the name grotesco, grotesque, not being adopted till a century later. Antic was thus not developed in English < antique adj. and n., but was a distinct use of the word from its first introduction. Yet in 17th cent. it was occas. written antique, a spelling proper to the other word.


  1. Tom Ackroyd says

    My father had an Aldous Huxley book called “Antic Hay” which regularly caught my eye from the bookshelf. It was always a bit of opaque poetry to me, until I clicked that it was the essentially the same word as used in the first line of “Ozymandias”.

  2. Quoth WP:

    The title is from the play Edward II by Christopher Marlowe, c. 1593, I.i.59-60: “My men, like satyrs grazing on the lawns / Shall with their goat feet dance the antic hay”, which is quoted on the frontispiece. “Antic hay”, here, refers to a playful dance.

    Marlowe’s mighty line, as Ben Jonson called it.

  3. mollymooly says

    Although it still seems like old Fordie meant “antique”.

  4. Sure, but he takes sixteenth-century liberties and runs with them. The spelling antick lasted till the seventeenth century, and presumably reflected a real difference in pronunciation (stress on first syllable), thus worth importing into a modern book about the period.

  5. antic hay
    This is the OED’s hay, hey 4, “A country dance having a winding or serpentine movement, or being of the nature of a reel.” (“Of uncertain origin: haye d’allemaigne is used in 15th cent. French by Marot.”)

  6. “Hay” is still used by devotees of certain kinds of country dancing (such as contra dancing). It refers to a move in which four or six people travel other each other in a graceful crisscross way, all following the same figure-eight path.
    I, too, had the confusing phrase “antic hay” in my head for years (from the Huxley title glimpsed somewhere). I think this led to vague thoughts of haylofts (loft=attic), until I heard of “treading the antic hay” and it clicked.

  7. Sure, but he takes sixteenth-century liberties and runs with them.
    Did ‘antic’ acquire alternative meanings (classic vs bizarre) as perceptions of classicism and taste in general became more sober (perhaps between Shakespeare and Milton) and after that if you wanted to be unambiguous you wrote ‘antique’? Surely Ford wanted that extra resonance.
    There’s a slideshow of 16c dance images here, and Ford’s characters might have known Holbein’s cavorting Deaths. Ford certainly knew all about his portraits. And probably would also have known Callot’s 1622 dancers, which are later of course but very antick in what I would like to be the original sense.

  8. Christopher Burd says

    I remember being surprised that “attic” – a homely word, in the literal sense – had a classical origin, from “Attic storey”, a particular architecture style for an upper storey. It was perhaps used by the Athenians, but not called it that by them.

  9. rootlesscosmo says

    I read the Huxley novel, with its epigraph from Marlowe, long ago; I worked out that “antic” meant “antique, old-style,” but was baffled by “hay.” Somebody suggested (mistakenly) a connection with “ha-ha,” a sunken fence, but this didn’t make matters any clearer.

  10. I wonder if this hay n. 4 is in any way connected with hay n. 2 ‘hedge’. The OED is silent on any possible connection, but it seems to me that a winding linear dance could be seen as like a hedge, which until modern times would normally follow the contours of the land. There is also hay n. 3 ‘net for catching animals’, where the OED says that any connection with hay n. 2 is merely conjectural with no evidence for it (but at least there is a conjecture).
    What is clear in any case is that hay n. 1, cut dried grass, has nothing to do with it: that is a a de-adjectival noun related to the verb hew

  11. marie-lucie says

    JC: I wonder if this hay n. 4 is in any way connected with hay n. 2 ‘hedge’
    I think so!
    Earlier you quoted the 15C French phrase haye d’allemaigne (‘”haye” from Germany’) as the name of the dance. The spelling “haye” is still used in some French placenames and family names, where the modern spelling of the individual word would be haie, a word of Germanic origin meaning ‘hedge’. One of the towns called La Haye in France is La Haye-Descartes, the birthplace of Descartes. Deshayes ‘of the hedges’ is a fairly common family name, referring to the situation of the family estate in medieval times, surrounded with hedges (an old hedge composed of trees and bushes, properly managed, could be more effective than a built wall).
    Similarly the capital of the Netherlands is called in French La Haye, corresponding to English The Hague and Dutch den Haag. As Wikipedia explains the origin of the name:

    The Hague is first mentioned as Die Hage in a document dating from 1242. In the fifteenth century, the smarter des Graven hage came into use, literally “the count’s wood”, with connotations like “the count’s hedge, private enclosure or hunting grounds”.

    I think it is the opposite: the count’s hedge” is the literal meaning, and the hedge must be enclosing a wood intended to be used as a hunting preserve.
    There is a familiar French phrase faire la haie, lit. ‘to create a hedge, act as a hedge’, referring originally to soldiers or guards lining up on both sides of the path or road to be trod by a king, general or other figure commanding authority and respect, especially on ceremonial occasions. Forming such a ‘hedge’ can also be done on other occasions, such as with a group of dancers forming two lines of equal length between which those at one end must dance to reach the other end, in a continuous loop. It is quite likely that in Germany the basic ‘hedge’ of dancers developed into something more complex, resembling modern square dances.
    I also agree with you that meaning n. 3 ‘net for catching animals’ (following a very ancient technique) must be related: pictures of such nets as used in ancient Eurasia or still recently in various parts of the world show lines of people or posts set up in order to hold up very long nets in an almost complete circle, thus forcing the animals corralled inside towards a predetermined open spot where they can be killed while trying to escape.

  12. In The Lord of the Rings, there is a tall, thick hedge known as the High Hay, delimiting Buckland (part of the Shire) from the wild Old Forest beyond. It is so impenetrable that there is a tunnel passing under it to allow transit. The town of Haysend is also mentioned: not surprisingly, it stands at the end of the High Hay.
    Tolkien is at pains to explain this point in his notes for translators, probably because the Swedish translation (hardly the Dutch, I think; those were the only two extant at the time) had botched it.

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