Green’s Dictionary of Slang

horn n.1

[the obvious link is to horn n.2 (1a), the penis, but the term apparently comes from an old German farming practice of grafting the spurs of a castrated cock on the root of the severed comb. These transplants would grow into horns, sometimes several inches long. The German word hahnreh or hahnrei, meaning cuckold, orig. meant capon, a castrated cock; an older theory took the posture of ‘missionary position’ intercourse, in which the man represented a head and the woman’s legs, spread and raised, were his horns; thus note Ward, ‘The Dancing School’ (1700): ‘I should hate a Husband with horns, were they even of my own grafting’]

(also antlers) an all-purpose term for cuckoldry, a symbol of cuckoldry; usu. in pl.

[UK]Lydgate Falle of Prynces Bk II line 3358–3366: For off this hous ther was a certeyn knyht [...] To speke pleyn Inglissh, made hym a cokold. Alas, I was nat auysid weel beforn, Oncunnyngli to speke such language; I sholde ha said, how that he hadde an horn, [...] As in sum land Cornodo men do them call.
[UK]Hickscorner Biii: I am come of goode kynne I tell the[e] My moder was a lady of the stewes blode borne And knyght of the halter my fader ware an horne.
[UK]Thersytes (1550) C i: Why wylte not thou thy hornes in holde Thinkest thou that I am a cockolde.
[UK]J. Heywood Proverbs II Ch. x: Either for honour or honestie as good / As she gave hym. She was (as they say) horne wood.
[UK]J. Heywood Epigrams upon Proverbs cxlix: Thy heare growth through thy whood, is thi whood torne, / Or doth thy heare perse through thy whood, lyke a horne.
Bannatyne MSS ‘The Use of Court’ in Huntarian Club (1886) 765: Vp gettis hir wame, / Scho thinkis no schame / For to bring hame / The laird ane horne [F&H].
[UK]Appius and Virginia in Farmer (1908) 11: A hairbrain, a hangman, or a grafter of horns?
[UK]Lyly Euphues and his England (1916) 265: She will ever conceal whom she loves; and to wear a horn and not know it will do me no more harm than to eat a fly and not see it.
[UK]Cobbler of Canterbury (1976) 22: His heade great, his browes broad [...] As no man might hold a scorne On his head to graft a horne.
[UK]Merry Knack to Know a Knave F: Why tis for this, to see if he can fynd A front whereon to graft a paire of hornes: But in plain tearms he comes to Cuckold me.
[UK]Shakespeare As You Like It IV ii: Take thou no scorn to wear the horn; It was a crest ere thou wast born.
[UK]Davies of Hereford Scourge of Folly 166: Some Cuckolds, though their Caps be of horne, Their heads neuer ake, but highly are borne.
[UK]J. Harington Epigrams IV No. 25: Who wishes, hopes, and thinks his wife is true, / To him one horne, or vnicorne is due. / Who sees his wife play false, and will not spy it, / He hath two hornes, and yet he may deny it.
[UK]R. Davenport City-Night-Cap (1661) 11: That men should ever marry! that we should lay our heads, and take our hornes up out of womans laps.
[UK]J. Taylor ‘Epigrams’ in Works (1869) II 266: But when a wife cornutes her husbands head, / He gaines in hornes he holds an extreme Crosse.
[UK]T. Killigrew Parson’s Wedding (1664) IV i: care.: I hope to exalt the Parson’s horn here. capt.: And what think you? is it not a sweet sin, this lying with another man’s Wife?
[UK]Mercurius Fumigosus 25 15–22 Nov. 211: Horns, Horns, Horns, Horns, before, behinde, / and eke on every side [...] Good morrow Cuckolds all-a-row; thus go the merry Bells of Bow, Good morrow Cuckolds all-a-row.
[UK] ‘The Rump Carbonado’d’ Rump Poems and Songs (1662) II 69: No sooner exalted was Essex his horn / But God’s law, and man’s too the Cuckold did scorn.
[UK]Wycherley Country Wife IV iii: If ever you suffer your wife to trouble me again here, she shall carry you home a pair of horns.
[UK]J. Crowne Sir Courtly Nice I i: A doctor! a quack [...] we shall see him mount the stage, or stand at the Old—Exchange, and cry a cure for your horns! a cure for your horns!
[UK]Farquhar Love and a Bottle IV iii: How I shou’d laugh, to see how gravely his Goose-Caps fits upon a pair of Horns.
[UK]Answer to the Fifteen Comforts of Matrimony 4: She’ll coax the Dotard when his Bags are full, / Yet even then graft Horns upon his Skull, / Makes him a Beggar to enrich her Cull.
[UK] in D’Urfey Pills to Purge Melancholy IV 85: And to cut off Cuckolds Scorns, / She decks his Head with Silver horns.
[UK]S. Centlivre Artifice Act IV: I was but a Cuckold in Conceit before! now ev’ry Fool will hang his Hat upon my Horns!
[Ire]Swift ‘His Grace’s Answer’ in A. Carpenter Verse in Eng. in 18C Ireland (1998) 152: Nor shall you strive your Horns to hide, / For then your Horns will be your Pride.
[UK]Fielding Tom Thumb III i: Were he my Husband, his Horns should be as long as his Body.
[UK]Friar and Boy Pt II 12: Jack at this aloud did laugh, And touted him with scorn; Also he on his head did graft A lusty pair of horns [...] And they began to skip and dance, Like cuckolds all a-row.
[Ire]J. O’Keeffe The She-Gallant 12: If I was married, I should think he smoak’d my horns.
[WI]T. Chatterton Revenge I ii: Let her do what she will, / The husband is still, / And but for his horns you would think him an ass.
[UK]Nocturnal Revels I 13: [in punning synonym] While my Lord was enjoying Chloe in one room, her Ladyship was cornuting her caro sposo with a pair of the largest antlers she could procure.
[Ire] ‘The Coughing Old Man’ in A. Carpenter Verse in Eng. in 18C Ireland (1998) 396: What Maid can blame me / To crown him with horns as soon as I can.
[Ire] ‘The Coughing Old Man’ Irish Songster 3: What Maid can blame me, / To crown him with horns.
[UK]‘Peter Pindar’ ‘Pindariana’ Works (1796) IV 224: Lo, thy wickedness at once adorns His trembling temples with a brace of horns.
[US]H.H. Brackenridge Modern Chivalry (1937) Pt II Vol. II Bk III 500: Horns! said she. What can this mean? Mean, said the Captain; every one knows the meaning of the emblem. Antlers is a common place figure for cuckoldom.
[Ire]Spirit of Irish Wit 216: ‘How pretty he [i.e. a lamb] is, he has got no horns.’ [...] ‘That is because he is not married’.
[UK]‘Brian M’Clahan’ in Universal Songster I 36/2: The priest, people said, / Put an ugly big horn on my dad’s handsome head.
[US]Owl (NY) 25 Sept. n.p.: ‘I would rather be dead’ / Than tied to a fiery young jilt, / For antlers would grow on my head.
[UK] ‘Mars & Venus’ Bentley’s Misc. Mar. 247: And, like Italian husbands, he / Now wore his horns resignedly.
[US]Polyanthos (NY) 9 June n.p.: [from NY Daily Whig] The butcher knocked him down on his marrow bones for enquiring after his rib [...] But the butcher was still more incensed when he was questioned about horns.
[UK]J. Labern ‘Fasionable Arrivals’ Comic Songs 10: Count Flammer the Berk’ley adorns, / Sir Milksop’s returned to his Mother, / And Lord Cuckold’s put up at the Horns.
[US]Whip & Satirist of NY & Brooklyn (NY) 26 Feb. n.p.: The ladies laugh considerably at his horns!
[Aus]Satirist & Sporting Chron. (Sydney) 25 Feb. 2/2: Mrs Bushelle gave a Concert [...] The gem of the evening was a new version of ‘charley is my darling’ sung by Mrs Bushelle, accompanied by her husband, with two horns.
[UK]R.S. Surtees Young Tom Hall (1926) 299: ‘I was thinking of Horns. Not an unlikely man to wear them, I should say [...],’ giggled his lordship.
[US] in T.P. Lowry Stories the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell (1994) 33: I have herd [sic] men when they are talking about old men being guilty of such [a] thing that the older the Back the stifer the horn.
[UK]Kipling ‘The Story of the Gadsbys’ Soldiers Three (1907) 138: And a pair of be-ewtiful sambhur-horns for Doone to wear, free of expense, presented by —.
[Aus]Dead Bird (Sydney) 15 Feb. 1/2: Clement Scott has written a hunting-song especially for Her Gracious Majesty Victoria, commencing ‘The horn, the horn, the lusty horn.’ Good old Clement, he evidently knows the royal sporting tastes to a nicety.
[UK]Forbidden Fruit n.p.: Fancy a boy like you putting horns on the head of his Father!
[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 101/2: Horns, the. 1. (Among Italians) The symbol of cuckoldry. ‘The guy’s hep (smart) in the grift (racketeering) but he sure lets that chippie (girl) of his put the horns on him something awful.’.
[US]W. Murray Sweet Ride 63: Lola had put horns on the poor guy right from the start.

In derivatives

horny (adj.)

indulging in cuckoldry.

[US]Wkly Rake (NY) 27 Aug. n.p.: Look out, or your head may be as horn-y as your lady’s other affair .

In compounds

horn fair (n.)

see separate entry.

horn-headed (adj.)


[UK]Parliament of Women B4: You speak wel in that said Mrs. Bridget Bold-face for why should we toyl and turmoyl for our horn-headed and hard-headed husbands.
[UK]N. Ward ‘A Walk to Islington’ Writings (1704) 76: From when City Dames first were taught the ill uses / Of Riding and Ruling their Horn-Headed Spouses.
horn work (n.)

cuckoldry; also attrib.

[UK]Rowlands Diogenes Lanthorne 9: If the dogge could speake he would beare witnes against his maister for horne worke that he hath seene wrought by his mystris in her chamber.
[UK]Rowlands Well met Gossip n.p.: Euery night they sleepe in Horne-work caps.
[UK]Dryden Kind Keeper V i: jud.: If her Husband shou’d come back, he may think her still abroad, and you may have time -- wood.: To take in the Horn-work.
[UK]Smollett Peregrine Pickle (1964) 641: Had my head been fortified with a horn-work, I should not have been so sensible of the stroke.
[UK]Sterne Tristram Shandy (1949) 136: Nor have the horn-works, he speaks of, any thing in the world to do with the horn-works of cuckoldom.
[Ire]L. Macnally Fashionable Levities I i: Horn work—Eh?
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue ms. additions n.p.: Horn Work. Cuckold making.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue (2nd, 3rd edn).
Moore Poems ‘Re-inforcements for the Duke’ iii 209: Old H--df--t at horn-works again might be tried [F&H].
[UK]‘A. Burton’ My Cousin in the Army 67: Now th’ horn-work storms behind the curtain.

In phrases

blow one’s horn (v.)

to be a cuckold, to be cuckolded.

[UK] ‘The Hopeful Bargain’ in Farmer Merry Songs and Ballads (1897) IV 208: She [...] left the poor Cuckold alone in the House, / That he by himself his Horn might blow.
[UK] in D’Urfey Pills to Purge Melancholy V 259: She [...] left the poor Cuckold alone in the House, / That he by himself his Horn might blow.
give horns (v.)

to cuckold.

[UK]The Boke of Mayd Emlyn line 44: Whan she saw her tyme, And with a prety gynne Gyue her husbande an horne.
[UK]Jonson Every Man Out of his Humour V vii: Remember you are a woman, turn impudent; give him not the head, though you give him the horns.
[UK]Marlowe Tragical Hist. of Dr. Faustus I i: I see thou hast a wife, that not only gives thee horns, but makes thee wear them.
[US]N. West Miss Lonelyhearts in Coll. Works (1975) 231: No matter how hard he begged her to give Shrike horns, she refused to sleep with him.
grow horns (v.) (also bud horns)

to become the victim of cuckoldry.

[UK]‘I.T.’ Grim The Collier of Croydon III i: My Head groweth hard, my Horns will shortly spring, Now who may lead the Cuckold’s dance but I?
[UK]Wily Beguiled 16: A horne plague of this money, / For it causes many hornes to bud: / And for money many men are hornd.
[UK]Chapman May-Day III i: Quintiliano is now carousing in the Emperor’s Head, while his own head buds horns to carouse.
[UK]Massinger Guardian III vi: Horns upon horns grow on him.
[UK] ‘John Anderson My Jo’ in Bold (1979) 120: Or ye shall have the horns, John, / Upon your head to grow; / And that’s the cuckold’s mallison, / John Anderson, my jo.
plant horns (v.)

to make someone into a cuckold.

[UK]Midnight Spy 124: She esteems it an indispensable part of her duty to plant the horns.
[UK]Morn. Chron. (London) 30 Nov. 2/4: But since the king’s spouse can plant horns on his brows [etc.].
[US]Whip & Satirist of NY & Brooklyn (NY) 21 Jan. n.p.: [They] planted hornes [sic] upon their spouses’ heads [...] and boasted their infidelity.
put the horns on (v.) [fig. use] (US)

1. to jinx, to give bad luck.

[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 170/2: Put the horns on. [...] 2. To jinx: to give one bad luck.
[US]B. Appel Tough Guy [ebook] ‘Who wants-a see me put the horns on that ole witch?’.
[US]J. Scarne Complete Guide to Gambling 688: Put the Horns On – to try to influence one’s luck by changing position at a table, carrying a rabbit’s foot, or using any other superstitious device.

2. to cuckold.

[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 170/2: Put the horns on. 1. To cheat.
[US]E. Torres Carlito’s Way 49: Whose old lady ain’t putting the horns on who.
[UK]J. Morton Lowspeak.
wear (the) horns (v.)

to be cuckolded.

[UK]Marston Jacke Drums Entertainment Act V: The leaue proud scorne, And honest selfe made Cuckold, weare the horne.
[UK]E. Gayton Wit Revived 6: Q. Why is the husband said to weare hornes, and not the wife?
[UK] ‘As I Lay Musing’ in Farmer Merry Songs and Ballads (1897) II 64: If right, the woman should wear the horn: / And if each Cuckold his horns should wear, / I should shrewdly fear, / It would be strange to see / Men without horns appear.
[UK]N. Ward Hudibras Redivivus I:4 4: While Feet, as well as Heads, wear Horns.
[UK]Oxford Jrnl 5 May 1/1: The wanton Wife will let the poor Man wear his Horn on his Head with Peace and Quiet.
[UK]Kentish Gaz. 25 June 4/3: ‘Of Cursing Cuckolds’ A Lord that talk’d of late with idle scorn, / Of some that wore invisbly the horn' / Said ‘he could wish [...] all Cuckolds in the Thames’ [etc.].
[UK]Morn. Post (London) 22 Dec. 3/2: The Lady’s conduct, her gallantries, at Brighton last summer, have come to his Lordship’s ears, and [...] he has no desire to wear horns.
[UK]Kentish Gaz. 28 Sept. 4/5: Wit in placards the hat adorns ... / of husbands, proud to wear their horns.
[UK]Lancaster Gaz. 27 Sept. 4/1: ’Tis no new thing for lovers to wear horns.
[UK]Satirist (London) 23 Dec. 413/1: Of cattle wearing horns the list, / Was really quite amazing.
[UK]York Herald 24 Oct. 4/6: A peculiar method of proving their attachment to the marriage state, by running away so frequently with each other’s wives. The husbands, who lose their wives, wear horns.
[UK]Crim.-Con. Gaz. 13 Apr. 113/1: We are convinced our friend will soon have a pair of antlers to wear.
[US]Whip & Satirist of NY & Brooklyn (NY) 21 Jan. n.p.: He beheld enough to satisfy him that he wore horns.
[UK]Morn. Chron. (London) 19 Dec. 5/6: We think he is called on somewhat too often to wear the imaginary horns.
[Ire]Dublin Eve. Mail 16 Jan. 1/5: You that would not willingly wear horns. The surest way not to be a cuckold is never to marry.
[UK]Binstead & Wells Pink ’Un and Pelican 256: It was the old, old story of a married woman, an unmarried man, and a husband who objected to wear antlers.
[Aus]H. Lawson ‘Their Mate’s Honour’ in Roderick (1972) 759: You dinna ken how many men / Should wear their horns for me!
[US]H. Miller Roofs of Paris (1983) 125: Why a cunt as handsome as she is with cash in the bank, should have picked this bearded flea [...] Possibly it’s because he wears his horns so casually.
[US]‘Bailey Morgan’ ‘Dig that Crazy Corpse’ in Pursuit Mar. (2008) 159: Mrs. Tucker was the co-respondent [...] Gizmo Tucker [was] not only the wearer of big ears but the wearer of big horns, right in the middle of his forehead.