Thow Meseld Faced Hore.

Jonathan Healey’s recent post at The Social Historian (“Adventures in the world of social, economic, and local history”) is well worth reading for its analysis of sixteenth-century thought (“All this, of course, speaks to one of the biggest fears of the age: the fear of disorder”), but the title will give an idea of why I was drawn to it and am posting it here: “‘The Foulest Place of Mine Arse is Fairer than thy Face.’” It opens with a scene (quoted in lurid detail in court records) of a set-to between Mistress Foster and Agnes Haycroft on Michaelmas Eve in 1544, full of delightfully vile insults:

Frideswide was incensed. ‘That brazenfaced hore’, she said. ‘That meseld faced and skaled hore Haycroft wiff, she will never be contended till she be dreven owt of towne with basons as hir mother was’.

‘Mother,’ she said, ‘if I had bene there I wold have knoked hir furryd cap & her hed together’.

By this time, Agnes Haycroft was back, and she challenged Frideswide. ‘Wold you have don it’, she scoffed, ‘yow pockye nosed howswife’.

To this, Frideswide exploded: ‘Agnes Haycroft nay thou pokey nosed hore, feiste thow, thow meseld faced hore, thow camest to towne with a lepers face & a skalled hed, And I defye the[e] utterly, for I wold thow knewist yt that the fowlest place of myn arse ys fayrer then thy face’.

Or, as another witness had it: ‘avaunte thou pockye hore and mesellfaced hore, the fowlest place of my arse is fayrer then thy face’.

It’s worth it just for the name Frideswide, but there’s so much more! (Via MetaFilter.)


  1. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    I have several Frideswides among my relatives, most recently a first cousin twice removed.

  2. David Marjanović says

    I wonder if there’s a connection to the Viennese insult mi(e?)selsüchtig, which implies suffering from some illness, but which one is not at all clear (measles obviously come to mind, but in German they’re Masern…).

  3. According to Healey, “dreven owt of towne with basons” means driven out to the accompaniment of “rough music” such as good women banging on their basins and pans. But could it be that the “basons” referred to whips made of sheep leather?

    The same ME dictionary has entires for “mesel,” “pok,” and “scalled.”

  4. marie-lucie says

    AK, The custom was to make sure that persons (perhaps especially women) who were not criminals but were ‘disturbing the peace’ were escorted out of town (even if only temporarily), to the sound of “rough music”, a mocking reverse of escorting prominent persons (such as visiting royals) to the accompaniment of “pipes and drums”. No special instruments were needed: every housewife had some metal pots and pans and other utensils which when banged with each other would make the required loud and obnoxious noises. A similar example was the “shivaree”, making fun of older newlyweds by escorting them to their new home to the sound of such instruments (and sometimes continuing the ‘music’ into the night).

    The word “bason” ‘sheep leather’ seems to be a mass noun, not a count noun like “whip”. Even if it did mean that, a whip was not likely to be part of household goods in a town, especially as part of the accessories to “women’s work”, and in any case would not be suitable to provide the desired “rough music”. A group of people all “cracking whips” would also be liable to hit and injure themselves and each other unless they were exceptionally well-trained, again not likely with ordinary housewives.

  5. I have several Frideswides among my relatives, most recently a first cousin twice removed.

    You astonish me, sir. How do they pronounce it? Surely not “FRIED-swide”?

  6. FRY-swide, it seems: the first /d/ got lost somewhere, perhaps by dissimilation. Lots of details there, though the usual paucity of sources.

    [Insert rant about how Wiktionary doesn’t bother providing sources for etymologies, treating them as facts that fell from Mount Olympus (or Helgafell, as the case may be), in total violation of proper WikiEtiquette.]

  7. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    “I have several Frideswides among my relatives, most recently a first cousin twice removed.”

    You astonish me, sir. How do they pronounce it? Surely not “FRIED-swide”?

    Well, the one closest to me in age died in 1961 at the age of 87, so although I could have met her I don’t think I did. Now that I check I see that her name was actually Frediswide: clearly the same name, but a slightly different spelling.

    I think it was pronounced “Freddy’s wide” (sorry, I can’t do IPA on this computer, at least, not without a lot of effort.) The s may be an /s/ not a /z/.

  8. JC: Thanks for that link, from which we also learn that the diminutive is Friday. But they give two pronunciations, the latter of which is the one I put forth with horripilation: “In modern terms the saint’s name is pronounced FRĪS-wīde or FRĪDES-wīde (long i both times).”

    ACB: Thanks for the explanation, and don’t worry about the IPA, I usually don’t bother with it myself.

  9. “shivaree” aka “charivari”, as in “Punch, or The London Charivari”.

  10. That is not otherwise than the case, O Mollymooly. The OED cites this fine quotation from The Water-babies:

    In a word, never was there heard at Hall Place, not even when the fox was killed in the conservatory, among acres of broken glass, and tons of smashed flower-pots, such a noise, row, hubbub, babel, shindy, hullabaloo, stramash, charivari, and total contempt of dignity, repose, and order, as that day, when Grimes, the gardener, the groom, the dairymaid, Sir John, the steward, the ploughman, the keeper, and the Irishwoman, all ran up the park, shouting “Stop thief,” in the belief that Tom had at least a thousand pounds’ worth of jewels in his empty pockets; and the very magpies and jays followed Tom up, screaking and screaming, as if he were a hunted fox, beginning to droop his brush.


    Emphasis, to be sure, added. (Punctuationists note the rhetorical semicolon.)

    Because shivaree has initial (or sometimes final) stress, I had guessed that charivari would be stressed on the second syllable, but all British dictionaries agree that it’s stressed on the third. The OED says that the form shivaree, though chiefly U.S., is or was also found in Cornwal, and attributes the subtitle of Punch to its being used as the name of a similar Paris publication.

    The AHD simply lists /ˈʃɪvəri/ and /ʃɪvəˈri/ as the American pronunciations of charivari, and gives the etymology as French < Latin; < Greek karēbariā ‘headache’.

  11. J.W. Brewer says

    Is the spelling “hoore” in the antique insults quoted in the linked Social Historian piece relevant to the recent discussion on another thread about pronouncing “whore” with the CURE vowel versus NORTH or FORCE? Or is the phonetic implication I’m drawing from the doubled “o” anachronistic when applied to 16th century orthography?

  12. Being drummed out of town is mentioned in:

    The lion and the unicorn
    Were fighting for the crown
    The lion beat the unicorn
    All around the town.
    Some gave them white bread,
    And some gave them brown;
    Some gave them plum cake
    and drummed them out of town.

    Of course, this nursery rhyme is essentially unknown in America (for obvious reasons), except as one of the rhymes that is acted out in Through the Looking Glass.

  13. marie-lucie says

    JC: The OED … the subtitle of Punch … the name of a similar Paris publication.

    Yes, there was at one time a satirical French publication called Le Charivari. I remember it being mentioned in some 19th century novels, perhaps as far back as Balzac (but I could be wrong about that). So Punch was intended as a similar publication.

    Brett: I suppose that “drumming someone out of town” was something official, banishing an undesirable person and escorting them out under guard, while a bunch of housewives banging kitchen pots together was informal, more like a shivaree.

  14. January First-of-May says

    I wonder if charivari – in whatever meaning – is related to the Russian sharovary (шаровары – a kind of baggy pants).
    It’s probably not related to “shareware”.

  15. marie-lucie says

    JFoM: It’s probably not related to “shareware”

    Not unless the internet is hundreds of years older than we think.

    There was a discussion of charivari, shivaree and similar words here at LH some time ago – perhaps years rather than months.

  16. Thanks for your comment(s), marie-lucie, and here’s the 2007 post you are probably referring to.

  17. Alon Lischinsky says

    I have never met anyone by the name, but have frequent occasion to hear it pronounced, as Frideswide Square is the location of the Oxford rail station. The local pronunciation is quite distinctly /ˈfɹaɪ.swaɪd/. If there’s a hint of a /d/ in the first syllable coda, I cannot hear it.

  18. marie-lucie says

    Oh, thank you, Alexei!

  19. marie-lucie says

    JFoM: Alexei provides the link to the TLFI (the ultimate French dictionary online), which has two charivari entries, #1 about the ‘rough music’ and similar unwanted noises and mayhem, #2 about a kind of pants formerly worn by soldiers in some countries of Eastern Europe. The two are unrelated.

  20. #2 is, of course, the Russian word, which is (via Turkic) from Iranian — cf. Modern Persian šalvār.

  21. cf. Modern Persian šalvār.

    Not to mention the ubiquitous women’s pants in India called salwar in English (and in Hindi — what are the versions of the word in other related languages, I don’t know).

    Anyway, the mention of this fashion sent me down an internet rabbit hole looking at pictures of different styles of salwar. I heard something interesting in the video, narrated by the owner of Jan’s Sewing Workshop, demonstrating the fancy dhotti salwar style. The seamstress says, laughing constantly, “I’m trying to actually convince my daughter to wear some of these [styles of salwar] — she’s the very very typical person who would only wear the normals. She calls it a shaliwali — normal shaliwali is all she’ll wear.” This raises a bunch of questions in my mind that I will just jot down here before seeking answers. It’s evident from the mother’s attitude that she considers the word “shaliwali” to be a youthful usage. Jan’s Sewing Workshop is located in Lancashire, and gven that its owner’s accent is a mix of India and northern England, we can guess her daughter was raised in England. So who calls those pants “shaliwali” — young folks in England only or elsewhere too? How do they pronounce it (it might be “sharivari” without the mother‘s accent)? Origins? I‘m off to search.

  22. marie-lucie says


    In French there is a word le sarrouel which must be an avatar of salwar. It seems to me to be a kind of hybrid of a long skirt and pants, only the feet showing out of two apertures at ankle level. Some of them are shaped closer to the leg below the knee. I think those are the ones worn by Pakistani women under a knee-length dress.

  23. The Hebrew for “sleeve”, sharvul, seems to be another metathesized version of this word.

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