Word Origin and History: “Farrier”

A few semesters back, I was engaged in the task that us English majors do best: writing a paper. As I typed the word “farrier”, that pesky, squiggly, red line suddenly appeared. I checked and double-checked my spelling on several dictionary websites including the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), but alas, Microsoft Word just wasn’t having it. Positive that I had the correct word and spelling, I dismissed the software’s warning, and carried on with the task at hand.

There are a couple of reasons as to why I chose to research the word, “farrier”. Upon hearing about this first assignment, I knew what my word choice would be; I thought back to that day in which I found myself stumped as to why spell-check refused to acknowledge this (what I thought to be) fairly recognizable word. This project allowed me to finally scratch that itch to some extent. Also, admittedly, I am that crazy horse girl, so it was pretty much guaranteed that I would lean towards a horse-related term to research.


The Oxford English Dictionary (OED)  

The first source that I referred to was the Oxford English Dictionary, compliments of Winthrop University’s Online Dacus Library. The OED served as my “reputable baseline”, so to speak, for the rest of my research.

According the the OED, the word “farrier” can be derived from:

  • Old French → ferrier
  • Latin → farrārius
  • Latin → “ferr-um” → meaning “iron”
  • Medieval Latin → ferrus → meaning “horseshoe”

“Farrier” was first cited in 1562 in the Acts of Parliament, a constitutional document developed by the British government. The farrier, according the Acts, is “one who shoes horses”; “a shoeing-smith”; and “one who treats the diseases of horses” (Farriers (Registration), Ch. 35). This entry (farrier, n.) includes words like “iron”, “blacksmith”, and “horse-shoer” to further define the word.

The OED also determines that a “farrier” was a title for “an official who has care of the horses in a cavalry regiment”, referred to as the “farrier-major”, “corporal farrier”, and “sergeant farrier”. The prestige of the term “farrier” appears to be at its prime during the mid to late 1800s. I found this entry particularly intriguing due to the prestige attributed to not just the farrier’s role, but to the status of cavalry steeds as well. To this day, any horseman will tell you how important it is to have a reliable farrier, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that at one point in time, even the federal government deemed it necessary to promote the highest standard of care for the equestrian “soldiers”.

http://www.Horseshoes.com: The Farrier and Hoof Care Resource Center       

My second source was an article published on horseshoes.com. Contributing author, Tom Ryan, authored an informative article, A Short History of the Term “Farrier”. This publication provided a comprehensive outline of the (somewhat) elusive history behind my chosen word. Ryan highlights that “farrier” has shifted in meaning over time, from the earlier, “horse doctor”, to the more contemporary, “one who shoes horses”. He adds that people who shoe (or shod) horses have only been calling themselves “farriers” for the last 100 years, or so.

Etymologically speaking, Ryan ascertains that the origin of the term “farrier” has two potential derivatives. This section of the article paralleled the OED’s definitions, at least to some extent. The first possible origin is from the Latin term, faber ferrariusFaber means “craftsman”, and ferrarius means “metal”; combined, the term literally means “blacksmith”. The second possible origin, as well as the more complicated one, is from Norman nobleman, Henri de Ferrières. Ferrières traveled with William the Conqueror, serving as a primary farrier. Ryan adds that the “farrier” during this time (circa 1066) may have also assumed duties of a “horse doctor”. The complicated part of this possible origin is Henri’s surname (Ferrières), which may have, according to Ryan, come from the French town, Ferriers. (Ironically, Ferriers is known for its abundance of iron resources, and consequently, played a central role in the iron-mining industry!)


While sources such as Ryan’s article provide more details regarding the techniques and approaches that different era’s farriers may have practiced, the purpose of this assignment is to focus on the word origin; and while I could research and blog about horses until my fingers fell off, I am urging myself to stick to the point. That being said, I would like to briefly mention the imperative nature of protecting the sanctity of this trade.

Whether industy certified, or grandfathered in, the farrier’s highest priority should be to provide consistent, quality service to the horse and owner. A good farrier should not be focused solely on the horse’s feet; rather, they should be focused on the entire horse. In order for a horse (and rider) to achieve balance, softness, and agility, the farrier must be experienced, educated, and patient. Each horse should be shod according to its individual needs and anatomical structure. In other words, the worthy farrier seeks quality, not quantity.

Links & Miscellaneous

Tom Ryan.  A Short History of the Term “Farrier”: file:///Users/xswhiteshoes/Documents/writing510/A%20Short%20History%20of%20the%20Term%20%22Farrier%22.webarchive

Note: The Dacus Library online database is only accessible to Winthrop University students. Due to my use of this source via the Dacus Library online, a live link to the Oxford English Dictionary cited in this post cannot be provided.

8 thoughts on “Word Origin and History: “Farrier”

  1. Hi!
    Can you please tell me who did the painting of the farrier on the top of this article?! I have been trying to find the artist for awhile now and am having no luck

  2. Hi Alex, I found your page via the picture of a farrier you have at the top of this article. I, too, am a wordsmith and I would like to use this image on the cover of a book I am publishing. Do you know who owns the copyright? I’d really appreciate you getting back to me asap (like yesterday) as the book is ready to go to print, apart from this one outstanding item – kind of necessary to the whole process! I look forward to your speedy (and hopefully positive) reply. Kind regards, Kate

  3. You’ve used the expression “…that us English majors do best” but as an English major you should know that the correct grammar is “…that we English majors do best.”
    Ie., We English majors are going. vs She gave it to us English majors.

  4. I see this often in our high schoolers’ work: the apparent need and attempt to write to try to show off their writing flair, and not to relay information. When they do so their writing skills drop because, it seems, they are not focused on accurately conveying, but on vanity. One might suggest that they should really analyze what their composed expressions actually mean, not what they had intended for them to mean (nor certainly how they sound). Writers must analyze their phrases again after having written them down, and do so to judge their accuracy, not to bask in their own perceived greatness of writing style. To that end consider these: Not “..era’s farriers”, but “…eras’ farriers” Not “…till my fingers fell off”, but “…till my fingers fall off” or “…till my fingers have fallen off” Not “… industry certified” but “… industry-certified” I want to ask why you believe that the horse’s feet should be concerned with the entire horse rather than the farrier being so concerned? Also I believe you’ll find that “ferrarrious” does not mean “metal”, but “of iron” or “of iron worker” “Ferrum” meant “iron”, and in Old English also meant “horseshoe”. “Ferrus” however would be plural, so not “horseshoe” but “horseshoes”

  5. Please forgive my rudeness. I should not have posted my previous comments. I will refrain from posting while tired. My apologies.

  6. This was a really interesting post to read. I’m currently in school to become a farrier, so this was an intriguing tidbit of information. We’re strongly encouraged here to “shoe the whole horse,” that is, look at and consider the whole horse when deciding what (if any) shoes to put on. So it was cool that you acknowledged that and obviously appreciate our trade.

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