[Ads-l] "horse-doctor" in the OED

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Sat Jan 31 16:12:58 UTC 2015

I suspect that half of the quotations for "horse-doctor" are not "one 
who treats the diseases of horses" but rather "an itinerant quack who 
promotes his wares and cures from horseback" (the better to make a 
quick getaway, of course).

Specifically, in the 1723 quotation he is amidst other showmen:

1723   London Gaz. No. 6139/3   Rope Dancers, Horse-Doctors, Poppet-Shewers.

I am suspicious of two other quotations, although more context is needed:

1810   M. L. Weems Let. in Ford's M. L. Weems: Wks & Ways (1929) III. 
11   A collection in which there is not a single Bible..nor 
Dream-book, nor Horse Doctors.

Are horse-doctors not to be believed, just as a dream-book ("a book 
containing interpretations of dreams") -- or a Bible> -- is not?

1930   T. S. Eliot tr. 'St.-J. Perse' Anabasis 65   The vast court of 
the horse-doctor.

Does a doctor who treats horses have a court (an audience?), or 
merely a stable?


In the sense I propose, there is an antedating of the 1723 quotation:

c1713  Pharmacopola Circumferaneus, or The Horse Doctor's Harangue to 
the Credulous Mob.  Title, broadside, Library of Congress (Call no. 
PC 2 -- Pharmacopola circumforaneus) or Wellcome Library (image No. 
575019i).  (Malcolm Jones or I can provide the evidence on which this 
date is based.)


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