Regular readers will know how much of a calendar geek I am. Ever since we first moved to Oakland back in 1996, I’ve spent every New Year’s Day morning in line at either of the Pendragon/Pegasus book stores waiting for their amazing calendar sale to begin. They take every calendar that didn’t sell before December 31st from one of their book wholesaler’s warehouses and sell them at 3 for $10, no matter how big or small. We usually buy a few dozen, and have calendars everywhere, including multiple ones in many of the rooms of our home.
One of the page-a-day calendars I picked up this year was “Jeffrey Kacirk’s Forgotten English,” which I thought would be fun, given my love of language and words. It’s based on his book and website. The very first word on January 1 was “hopshackles,” which is one I’ve never heard of.
So a little online research revealed that there’s not much out there about it, actually. Wordnik, from the Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia, has this definition.
n. A shackle or weight used to hobble a horse or other animal.
According to the calendar entry, it was already an obscure word in 1859, when Robert Nare wrote that “what these were, we can only guess,” and he points to the word being used in a 1570 book, “The Scholemaster” [sic]. “Some runners … deserve but the hopshackes.” I think he was talking there about Win Bassett.
So, does it have anything to do with the hops used in beer? Not so much, although the word certainly sounds like it ought to. And apparently, I’m not the only one who thought so, as Nigel Wright named his English brewery, Hopshackle Brewery, after the obscure term, and tells the story of that decision:
Where did the name “Hopshackle” originate from and what does it mean? Strangely enough I first came across the word when watching the popular T.V. programme “Call My Bluff” some years ago. What a cracking name for a brewery I thought should I ever get around to realising a life times ambition! The origin of the word “Hopshackle” is unknown, but it’s transitive verb is to hobble which has several relevant meanings.
Hobble – to walk with an uneven, unsteady or feeble gait; to hinder, perplex or tie together the legs of to prevent escape, kicking, or to regulate pace or stride. Dray horses were hobbled to ensure that they did not waste any of the valuable beer they were delivering
My OED lists the word as obsolete, and the “hop” part of the word as “obscure” and speculate it’s a combining of “hopple” and “hamshackle.” The earliest reference to it is print they have is from 1568. They define it as “a ligament for confining a horse or cow; a hopple or hobble.”
So I’m glad to see the word may live on at least in the name of a brewery. Because I agree with Nigel Wright, it is a cracking great name that should be brought back from obscurity. But, of course, it’s meaning needs to be updated, modernized and made useful again. So what should “hopshackle” mean, if we’re to bring it back?
Perhaps a previously overly hoppy beer that’s had its bitterness reduced to make a more balanced beer could be said to have “put on the hopshackles.” Or the session IPAs we’re starting to see, as in “Lagunitas’ new DayTime is great for drinking with lunch, because they put on the hopshackles.” Another usage could be a synonym for restrained or balanced, as opposed to extreme beer, like “Stone Brewing’s Enjoy By IPA is a nicely hopshackled beer?
Any other thoughts, idea, suggestions? C’mon people, brainstorm!