Discuss word origins and meanings.
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Post by incarnatus est » Thu Apr 12, 2012 12:40 am

In Wendell Berry's "Andy Catlett" he describes frightened/irritated mules in a mule team sitting back in their britchings.

I've been able to find a little, but not enough, info about this part of a mule's harness...including the use of the word "britching" as an anti-recoil device on a ship's cannon, but the obvious similarity to the word for pants: "britches" is too tempting to not throw it out to the WordWizards.

Any connections, origins you might make?

Thanks, Hugh Gilmore

Re: "britchings"

Post by trolley » Thu Apr 12, 2012 1:40 am

The britch is the buttocks of the animal. A britching harness is the part that wraps around the back of the animals thighs allowing it to exert a backward force that could move a wagon (or some other load) in reverse. They are also called breechings or a breeching harness.

Re: "britchings"

Post by Ken Greenwald » Thu Apr 12, 2012 6:07 am

Hugh, John beat me to it, but I'll try to overwhelm you with superfluous information.

It was not easy finding a dictionary definition, although I did find many examples of its use, as both britching and britchin. As it turns out, these terms and others (see below) are an alteration of the much older term for the same thing, breeching, which derives from breech, a horse’s ass. (<:)

Here is the sole dictionary in which I found britching listed:


BRITCHIN noun also attributive. Also, britchen, britching [alteration of breeching]: The part of a horse-harness passing around the hind part of the horse and fastened near the ends of the backband on the shafts to keep the cart from running on the horse going down hill.


BREECHING noun [1515-24]: A strong leather strap passing round the breech of a shaft-horse, and enabling him to push backwards; a breech-band. Also attributive. [From breech: The hinder part of a beast]
<1515-24 “To William Pawn . . . cart-saddles, collars, harnes, and breeching.”—Illustrated British History (1838) by Lodge, I. page 3>

<1795 “Breechings are of no use but in hilly places. . . . It is buckled to the collar along with the Breeching Strap.”—A Treatise on Carriages by W. Felton, II, pages 152 and 155>

<1861 “An old female hostler, who gave us neither cruppers, blinkers, or breeching.”—By-roads in Picardy by G. M. Musgrave, page 174>

To visualize what this item looks like and how it works see the diagram here, under ‘Parts of the harness.’ Although they don’t label it, it’s the strap going around the butt which connects to the wooden trace so that when going down hill the traces (wooden shafts) are being restrained to keep the wagon from running into the horse .

The following quotes were found in archived sources:
<1848 “Gen. Cass was quite sure of election and put his trust in providence, until he heard that Gen. Taylor was nominated, and then he gave up in despair. That nomination ‘broke the britchin.’”—Huron Reflector (Norwalk, Ohio), 11 July, page 3>

<1876 “. . . I hit the horses to go ahead. But the off one sets right back in the britchin’, and wouldn’t move a peg.”—Iowa State Reporter, 18 October, page 2>

<1917 “Just brace up and take a hitch on your grit, Have faith in the sand of this great nation and don’t forget to do your bit. The britchin hasn’t broke yet and it won’t.”—Middletown Times-Press (New York), 10 August, page 6>

<1975 “It was the longest hill I had ever seen. I was always afraid something would go wrong with the breechin, we called it the britchin and goodness knows what would have happened then.”—Piqua Daily Call (Ohio), 4 October, page 3>

<1992 “Now Rudolf, how many times have I told you to keep your tail down while I’m putting your harness on. We always get the britchin on your back and it belongs down below the tail!”—Steinbach Carillon (Manitoba, Canada), 1 January, page 6>

<2007 “Right to the end of her long life Bob’s mother . . . would make only a single observation of a notably broad-bottomed woman: ‘she’ll tak some britching.’”—The Independent (London), 28 December>

Ken – April 11, 2012

Re: "britchings"

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Thu Apr 12, 2012 9:13 am

So the breeching was a definite aid to transport.

Unlike the Beeching.

Re: "britchings"

Post by Erik_Kowal » Thu Apr 12, 2012 10:02 am

Yes, people are still bitching about that.

Re: "britchings"

Post by Wizard of Oz » Thu Apr 12, 2012 11:43 am

.. Webster knew how to make things clear .. I think ..
BRITCH'ING, n. A strong rope, fastened to the cascabel or pummelion of a cannon, by a thimble, and clinched to ring bolts in the ship's side, to prevent it from recoiling too much in battle.
.. I wonder if it is near the brass monkey ?? ..

WoZ getting his pummelion and his cascabel confused with his thimble
Signature: "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

Re: "britchings"

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Thu Apr 12, 2012 4:52 pm

I thought you were up to your barbie in sand at the moment.

Oh, a ship of the desert.

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