Regency Lexicon: Cuckold

Regencies describing adulterous females are wont to use the word cuckold.  Where does the term come from?

mid-13c., kukewald, from O.Fr. cucuault, from cocu (see cuckoo) + pejorative suffix -ault, of Germanic origin.

So called from the female bird’s alleged habit of changing mates, or her authentic habit of leaving eggs in another bird’s nest. The verb is 1580s, from the noun. Related: Cuckolded; cuckolding; cuckoldry. In Modern French the identity is more obvious: Coucou for the bird and cocu for the betrayed husband. Ger. Hahnrei (13c.), from Low German, is of obscure origin. The second element seems to be connected to words for “ardent,” and suggests perhaps “sexually aggressive hen,” with transferal to humans, but Kluge suggests rather a connection to words for “capon” and “castrated.” -From the Online Etymology Dictionary

Derived from Old French cucuault (from cucu, the Cuckoo bird, some varieties of which lay their eggs in another’s nest). Appears in Middle English in noun form circa 1250 as cokewald. First known use of the verb form is 1589.


cuckold (plural cuckolds)

  1. A man married to an unfaithful wife, especially when he is unaware or unaccepting of the fact.  [quotations ▼]

Usage notes

  • This was a standard comic figure in medieval and Shakespearean drama. – From Wiktionary

Cuckoos are widely distributed among most continents.

  • The Cuckoo Clock has its origin in the heart of the Black Forest (Germany), having been invented here in Schoenwald in 1737
  • Cuckoo is also slang for someone who is mentally unstable or crazy.
  • Almost half of the cuckoo species are brood parasites; these birds lay their eggs in other birds nest (birds of other species). The unwitting host bird feed the intruder bird with its own brood. Scientists think that the cuckoo’s brood parasitism may have evolved independently in New World (North and South American) and Old World cuckoos.
  • The cuckoo is named for its call…featured in the Cuckoo Clock

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