Equine Etymology: The Origins of Canter

This article says that “if you look up the word canter, it means to maintain a canted position.” While this is true, this is not the origins of the word “canter” for the three beat ‘running’ gait of the horse. If you’ve taken any Romance languages, you might have wondered why trot and gallop tend to be cognates, but canter doesn’t translate well. In French, it is a ‘petit galop,’ or little gallop. In Spanish, it is ‘medio galope,’ or mediumgallop (which may say a little about the relative riding styles). German does haveclerkCTa cognate for canter, being ‘kanter,’ which at first may seem to be because German does not stem from Latin, but it is simply taken from English. Germany’s domination of Equestrian sport came fairly late, and so much of the equestrian vocabulary in German is borrowed from English and French. So why does English stand alone in this? English tends to steal words and grammatical structures from a variety of languages, but the term ‘canter’ originated in English, in England. It is short for the ‘Canterbury gallop,’ which has more to do with an easy or lazy pace than with the angle of the gait.

 

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