12 January 2013

OED Definition of the Hun

The Oxford English Dictionary definition of the Hun:

Hun, n.


Húne, Húnas, = ON. Húnar, MHG. Hünen, Hiunen, Ger. Hunnen, med.L. Hunni (Chunni, Chuni), believed to represent the native name of the people, who were known to the Chinese as Hiong-nu, and also Han.]

1. One of an Asiatic race of warlike nomads, who invaded Europe c
A.D. 375, and in the middle of the 5th c., under their famous king Attila (styled Flagellum Dei, the scourge of God), overran and ravaged a great part of this continent.

CYNEWULF Elene 21 (Gr.) Werod samnodan Huna leode and Hreðgotan, foron fyrdhwate Francan and Hunas.    Ibid. 32 Huna cyning.    1607 TOPSELL Four-f. Beasts (1658) 226 The Companies or Armies of Huns, wandering up and down with most swift Horses, filled all things with slaughter and terrour.    1728 POPE Dunciad III. 90 The North..Great nurse of Goths, of Alans, and of Huns.    1838 Penny Cycl. XII. 346/2 Under Heraclius [610–641] many of the Huns embraced Christianity. After that period their name is no longer mentioned in History.    1851 RUSKIN Stones Ven. I. i. (1874) 16 Like the Huns, as scourges only.

2. poet. (and in U.S. vulgarly) A Hungarian.

CAMPBELL Hohenlinden vi, Where furious Frank, and fiery Hun, Shout in their sulphurous canopy.    1890 Daily News 28 June 5/4 The Huns who are here [Pennsylvania] said to be creating a widespread dissatisfaction. They are engaged chiefly as labourers in the mines and ironworks.

3. transf. A reckless or wilful destroyer of the beauties of nature or art: an uncultured devastator: cf. ‘Goth’, ‘Vandal’.

J. BERESFORD Miseries Hum. Life (1826) VI. xxxii, Visiting an awful Ruin in the company of a Romp of one sex or a Hun of the other.    1892 Pall Mall G. 3 May 2/2 The marauding Huns whose delight it is to trample on flowers, burn the underwood, and kill the birds and beasts.

4. a. gen. A person of brutal conduct or character; esp. during and since the war of 1914–18 applied, often without animus, to the Germans (or their allies); a German. Also attrib.
The immediate source of the application of Hun to the Germans was the speech delivered by Wilhelm II to the German troops about to sail for China on 27 July 1900. See the following examples:

   1900 Times 30 July 5/3 According to the Bremen Weser Zeitung the Emperor said [27 July at Bremerhaven]:—‘..No quarter will be given, no prisoners will be taken. Let all who fall into your hands be at your mercy. Just as the Huns a thousand years ago, under the leadership of Etzel (Attila) gained a reputation in virtue of which they still live in historical tradition, so may the name of Germany become known in such a manner in China that no Chinaman will ever again even dare to look askance at a German.’    1900 Daily News 20 Nov. 5/3 Herr Bebel [in the Reichstag] dwelt..at some length on the so-called Hun letters, and stigmatized the cruel and barbarous methods of European warfare in China.    1900 Times 21 Nov. 5/2 A great portion of the speech of the Socialist leader [Bebel] was devoted to the so-called ‘Letters from the Huns’ (Hunnenbriefe)—epistles from German soldiers in China to their relatives at home giving an account of the cruelties which have been perpetrated by the army of occupation.]

   1784–5 in Publ. Navy Rec. Soc. (1906) XXXI. 55 Andrew Duff, Midshipman. Dead. A drunken Hun.    1862
H. TIMROD Poems (1901) 143 Shout! let it reach the startled Huns! And roar with all thy festal guns! It is the answer of thy sons, Carolina!

KIPLING in Times 22 Dec. 9/5 In sight of Peace..With a cheated crew, to league anew With the Goth and the shameless Hun!    1914 ― in Queen 5 Sept. 388/2 Stand up and meet the war. The Hun is at the gate!    1915 E. CANDLER in Daily Mail 5 Apr. 4/3 She [sc. a Norfolk girl] told me how the eldest [brother ‘at the front’] had held up three ‘Huns’ in a mill... She used the word ‘Hun’ quite naturally, with no hint of contempt or bitterness.   1916 BOYD CABLE Action Front 133 Do you suppose our friend the Flighty Hun won't have a peep at us to-morrow morning?   1916 TAFFRAIL Pincher Martin xiv. 269, I suppose you know Peter,.. that we were bang on the top of a Hun minefield.    a1918 [see CRASH V. 6 a].    1918 Times 12 Dec. 9/4 ‘Supposed’ statements..of American ‘advisers’..simply smell of Hun propaganda.    1932 [see BIT n.2 4 h].    1941 [see crash-land V.].    1942 Tee Emm (Air Ministry) II. 63 The squadron has, after those months of inaction, started to bag Huns.    1945 [see ABROAD C n.].    1958 P. KEMP No Colours or Crest vi. 104 They ambushed a cartload of Huns the other day.

b. A flying cadet: see quots. Air Force slang (in the war of 1914–18).

H. BARBER Aeroplane Speaks 36 The Aeroplane..remonstrates... ‘See the Medical Officer, you young Hun.’    1918 E. M. ROBERTS Flying Fighter 233 An aeroplane..was flying over the street, but I don't know what the couple of British Huns in it were trying to do.    Ibid. 336 Every pilot is a Hun until he has received his wings.    1925 FRASER & GIBBONS Soldier & Sailor Words 123 The word ‘Hun’..was used..for a newly-joined young officer qualifying for his ‘wings’, in consequence of the destructive effect of the instructional aeroplanes which young officers while learning to fly usually had.

5. Comb., as Hun-folk, Hun-hater, Hun-land, Hun-talk; Hun-eating, -hunting, Hun-pinching.

   1928 Manch. Guardian Weekly 2 Nov. 350/2 There were two Englands—(a) the impossible Hun-eating England and (b) the better England.

KIPLING Irish Guards in Gt. War I. 343 The Battalion..watched about them..the muddy-faced Hun-folk.

R. MACAULAY Potterism II. i. 58 He would have to include among his jingoes and Hun-haters some fighting men too.    1925 FRASER & GIBBONS Soldier & Sailor Words 123 Hun hunting, an Airman's phrase for going out to look for, or chase, the enemy.

   1916 Daily Mirror 1 Nov. 4/4 Gott strafe England.., the recognised toast throughout Hunland.    1918 [see
EGG n. 3 d].    1920 Glasgow Herald 20 Nov. 5 No such sentiments could be admitted in Hunland.    1925 FRASER & GIBBONS Soldier & Sailor Words 124 Hunland, a term generally used in the War by Airmen for the country behind enemy lines, wherever it might be.

A. G. EMPEY Over Top 295 ‘Hun pinching’, raiding German trenches for prisoners.    1959 P. MOYES Dead Men don't Ski iii. 34 You ask her, Roger... You're the expert in Hun-talk.

Hence (esp. in sense 4)
ˈHundom, the state of being a ‘Hun’; ˈHunless a., lacking Germans, ˈHun-like a., like a Hun, impiously destructive; ˈHunnian, ˈHunnic, ˈHunnican, ˈHunnish adjs., of, pertaining to, or like the Huns; ˈHunnish a., whence ˈHunnishness.

TOPSELL Four-f. Beasts (1658) 226 These Hunnian horses elsewhere he calleth them Hunnican horses.    1820 BYRON Mar. Fal. IV. ii. 143 Dyed.. With Genoese, Saracen, and Hunnish gore.    1865 J. BALLANTINE Poems 139 A thousand Hun-like hands are On her Ark of glory.    1875 Encycl. Brit. III. 62/1 Attila is described as having been of true Hunnish type.    1882 Ibid. XIV. 60/1 A Hunnic party.    1916 F. LAWRENCE Mem. & Corr. (1961) 211, I saw you being martyred on account of my Hundom!    1918 Punch 27 Mar. 207/2 The Hunnish conduct of the German officer who egged on the natives.    1920 Blackw. Mag. Feb. 154/1 The islands were entirely Hunless.    1924 C. J. TOLLEY Mod. Golfer 7 The only piece of Hunnishness we ever encountered at Heidelberg was at the hands of an appalling doctor, who..thought fit to inoculate us against every known disease.    1928 Manch. Guardian Weekly 2 Nov. 350/2 Once give the better England clear evidence that Hunnishness is not the sole attribute of the German spirit, and [etc.].

Oxford English Dictionary Second Edition on CD-ROM (v. 4.0)
© Oxford University Press 2009
All rights reserved.

First published: 29 October 2012.

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