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Inspired by this question, when did people start to use "hench" as a verb? Was there a popular fictional origin, or did this usage originally come from non-fiction discussions of villains' associates?

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2 Answers 2

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Valorum pointed out a case in 1916 (!) which seems to match, a translation of Plautus's Amphitryon

Mer. (aside dryly) The henchman's first try at henching pretty nearly came to grief.

Under sheer trivia, henchman is generally agreed to come from Middle English henxman, referring to one's groom, or "horse man".

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  • Edward Woodward ordered his henchman to "go and hench something" in the dramatic reveal at the end of the 1989 movie of Agatha Christie's "The Man in the Brown Suit" Jul 3, 2023 at 22:35
  • @KerrAvon2055: And Valorum added a comment indicating likely usage in the early 20th century. I'll update my answer.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Jul 3, 2023 at 22:55
  • Thank you for this info
    – Andrew
    Jul 4, 2023 at 20:07
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It's certainly made it into Wiktionary:

(comics) To be a henchman or henchwoman, usually for a supervillain.

But it's been a verb for quite some time, in Scots.

To HENCH, v. a. To throw stones by bringing the hand along the haunch, S.

To HENCH, v. n. To halt; to limp, Gall. Roxb.-Germ. hink-en, claudicare; Teut. hinck-en, id. radically the same with Su.G. hwink-a, vacillare; Dan. hink-er, id. hinken, lameness.

To HENCH AWA', r. n. To move onward in a halting way, Fife, Roxb.

A Dictionary of the Scottish Language, John Jamieson, 1846.


In English, there seems to be confusion over the derivation of "henchman".

We have this from "The Lord Mayor's Show", London Magazine, 1844.

These Pages to the Mayor derived their name, says Blackstone, from following the haunch of their masters, and thence being called haunch-boys or hench-boys.

Whiffler and hench-boy. Ibid.

related to the first Scots meaning above.

Halliwell and Wright's Glossary (1844) has a full definition:

HENCHMAN. A page or attendant. Etymologists have been puzzled to find the origin of this once common word; and their attempts may be seen in Todd's Johnson. To me the simple etymology of judge Blackstone seems the most probable: haunchman, from following the haunch of his mas- ter. Bishop Percy also made the same conjecture in a note on the Northumberland Household Book. Hence it is applied to boy as well as man, hench-boy, or haunch-boy. Shakespeare speaks of "the haunch of winter," for the latter end of it. 2 Hen. IV, iv, 4. They who derive it from hengest, a horse, do not seem to have considered that it is most commonly used for a foot attendant or page. Mr. Douce, however, thinks otherwise, and he has certainly found mounted henshmen in Chaucer. See Illustrat., vol. i, 189. Still this only affects the etymology; for it seems clear that they became pages afterwards. Minshew says expressly, that "it is used for a man who goes on foot attending upon a man of honour, or great worship.

I do but beg a little changeling boy To be my henchman.

Mids. N. Dr., ii, 2

He whose phrases are as neatly decked as my lord mayor's hensmen.

Jack Drum's Entertainm., B 4.

They were excepted from the operation of the statute (4 Edw. IV, cap. 5), concerning excess of apparel:

Provided also, that henchmen, heralds, pursuivants, sword-bearers to mayors, messengers, and minstrels, nor none of them, nor players in their interludes, shall not be comprised within this statute.

Hench-boy was not uncommon:

How could they affect these filthy harbingers of hell, These proctors of Belzebub, Lucifer's hench-boys?

Muses' Looking Gl., O. Pl., ix, 187

Sir, I will match my lord-mayor's horse, make jockeys of his heach-boys, and run 'em through Cheapside.

Wits, O. Pl., viii, 420

Thus, to set the hench boys on horse- back, was to change the nature of their service. In one of Milton's MS. copies of the Ode on a Solemn Music, he had called the cherubim "Heav'n's henshmen," which, with very good taste, he afterwards expunged. See Todd's Milton, vol. vii, p. 57.

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    How did you post this answer while the question was closed?
    – jwodder
    Jul 3, 2023 at 19:26
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    @jwodder It was in a draft,and I wasn't sure whether to post it or not. So I put my phone down for at least an hour and a half, but at some point I thought to myself "You spent all that time putting it together, why not" and hit POST.
    – Spencer
    Jul 3, 2023 at 21:01
  • @jwodder OP's meaning of "hench" only applies to superhero villains anyway, and at a stretch could be categorized under "fandom". I think ELU would have been a better site for OP to ask this in, but other such questions have been accepted because of some remote SF or Fantasy tie-in.
    – Spencer
    Jul 3, 2023 at 21:04
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    @jwodder I had NO clue it was closed because the browser hadn't been refreshed in all that time.
    – Spencer
    Jul 3, 2023 at 21:07

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