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Posted by R. Berg on May 06, 2001

In Reply to: Stout posted by John Pumphrey on May 06, 2001

: I've been provided some material which constitutes descriptions made by British clerical staff of French Old Guard troops taken prisoner in 1815. These are described as "long", "fair" or "stout".
: My interest is primarily in the word "stout". I've been told that stout first began to mean "corpulent" during the 19th Century, with the first recorded usage in 1804. I'm assuming that "corpulent" would not be the correct meaning to assign to the usage above, given the date, but on the other hand I'm not sure "proud", "fierce" or "brave" fit all that well either. Would it perhaps be the secondary meaning of "sturdy"?
: Here is a typical description of them in 1814:
: "More dreadful looking fellows than Napoleon's Guard I had never seen. They had the look of thoroughbred, veteran, disciplined banditti. Depravity, recklessness, and bloodthirstiness were burned into their faces...Black mustachios, gigantic bearskins, and a ferocious expression were their characteristics."
: Does anyone have the first literary reference for "stout" meaning "corpulent"? When did the old primary meaning of "fierce" begin to die out? And what probabilities would you assign in respect of the above?
: My apologies that this is a word not a phrase, but the query has more to do with subtleties of meaning and literary references and this forum seemed a better bet than any others I've visited.
: Thanks,
: John

The best source for the history of English words is the Oxford English Dictionary. Here are a few of its senses for "stout":

--"Proud, haughty, arrogant. Obs."
Last quotation is dated 1851 but is glossarial. Last nonglossarial quotation is from 1803.

--"Fierce, furious. Obs."
Last quotation is dated 1600.

--"Formidable, menacing; terrible in appearance. Obs."
Last quotation: 1601.

--"Valiant, brave; undaunted and vigorous in conflict or resistance. Now somewhat arch. (chiefly attrib. of soldiers)."
Last quotation: 1890.

--"In bad sense: Obstinate, intractable, stubborn, rebellious. Obs."
Last quotation: 1834.

--"Strong in body; of powerful build. ?Obs."
Quotations from 1386 to 1842. This one is typical: "The high wages we were obliged to give, to induce stout labourers to face the perils of the service" .

Related senses, meaning "strong," of ships, buildings, and machines, are not marked obsolete. Last quotation for these is from 1909, "The stout dam with its marble bridge stood longer."

The definition for the "corpulent" sense indeed has 1804 for the first quotation, but the dates in the OED are only rough guides to when a sense originated. provides more info on how the OED staff collects examples.

I'd guess that "stout" in this context means strong-looking, large-boned, thickly built, because it appears alongside "long" and "fair," which are physical descriptions. ("Long" meant tall at that time.)