The Etymology of “Mare”: Why Female Horses Have This Name

Introduction: What is the Etymology of "Mare"?

The word "mare" is a term that is commonly used to refer to a female horse. However, its origins and meaning are not very well known to most people. The etymology of "mare" is the study of how the word came into existence and how its meaning has evolved over time. The term has been used for centuries to describe many different things, from a type of horse to a supernatural being in mythology. Understanding the history and meaning of "mare" can provide insight into the role of horses in human culture and language.

Early History of the Word "Mare"

The word "mare" has its roots in the Old English word "mære," which means "nightmare" or "incubus." This term referred to a type of supernatural creature that was said to sit on people’s chests while they were sleeping, causing them to have bad dreams or difficulty breathing. The word "mære" was eventually shortened to "mare" and came to be used to describe a female horse.

The Evolution of the Meaning of "Mare"

Over time, the meaning of "mare" began to shift from its supernatural origins to refer solely to female horses. This shift occurred during the Middle Ages, when horses were widely used for transportation and warfare. As the importance of horses grew, so did the need for specialized terminology to describe them. The word "mare" became one of many terms used to differentiate between different types of horses based on their gender, breed, or use.

Mare in Different Languages

The word "mare" has equivalents in many different languages, including French ("jument"), German ("Stute"), and Spanish ("yegua"). These terms are used to describe female horses, but they also carry cultural and linguistic connotations that vary from country to country. For example, the French term "jument" is often used as a derogatory term to describe a stubborn or uncooperative woman, while the German term "Stute" is sometimes used to describe a woman who is highly productive or successful.

Mare’s Role in Horse Breeding

Mares have played a crucial role in the history of horse breeding. They are responsible for carrying and giving birth to foals, which are the next generation of horses. Breeders often select mares based on their physical characteristics, temperament, and bloodline in order to produce offspring with desirable traits. In some cases, mares have been used to create new breeds of horses or to improve existing ones.

The Use of "Mare" in Literature and Art

Mares have been depicted in literature and art for centuries. They appear in works such as Shakespeare’s "The Taming of the Shrew" and the Greek myth of Pegasus. In art, mares have been portrayed in paintings, sculptures, and tapestries. They are often depicted as powerful and beautiful animals, embodying the grace and strength of the equine form.

Mare vs. Stallion: Gendered Language in Horse Terminology

The terms "mare" and "stallion" are used to describe female and male horses, respectively. However, these terms are not the only ones used to differentiate between gender in horse terminology. Other terms include "gelding" (a castrated male horse), "filly" (a young female horse), and "colt" (a young male horse). These terms reflect the different roles and functions that horses have played in human society.

The Symbolism of Mare in Mythology and Folklore

In many cultures, mares have been associated with supernatural or mythical beings. For example, in Norse mythology, the goddess Freyja was said to ride a chariot pulled by cats or mares. In Celtic folklore, the Kelpie was a malevolent water spirit that took the form of a mare. These stories reflect the close relationship that humans have had with horses throughout history.

Mare in Contemporary English: Popular Usage and Misconceptions

In contemporary English, the term "mare" is still widely used to refer to female horses. However, it is also used in other contexts to describe things that are difficult or annoying. For example, "nightmare" is often used to describe a bad or frightening experience, while "mare’s nest" is used to describe a confusing or chaotic situation. These uses reflect the historical association of mares with supernatural and negative connotations.

Conclusion: The Significance of "Mare" in Horse Culture and Language

The word "mare" has a rich history and a variety of meanings that reflect the important role that horses have played in human culture and language. From its origins as a supernatural creature to its modern usage as a term for a female horse, "mare" has evolved over time to reflect changing attitudes towards horses and their roles in society. By understanding the etymology of "mare," we can gain insight into the complex relationship between humans and horses and the ways in which language reflects this relationship.

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