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henchman

[hench-muh n]
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noun, plural hench·men.
  1. an unscrupulous and ruthless subordinate, especially a criminal: The leader of the gang went everywhere accompanied by his henchmen.
  2. an unscrupulous supporter or adherent of a political figure or cause, especially one motivated by the hope of personal gain: Hitler and his henchmen.
  3. a trusted attendant, supporter, or follower.
  4. Obsolete. a squire or page.
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Origin of henchman

1325–75; Middle English henchman, henshman, henksman, hengestman, Old English hengest stallion (cognate with German Hengst) + man man1
Related formshench·man·ship, noun

Synonyms

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2. flunky, lackey, cohort.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for henchman

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • A henchman attended, carried the carven cup in hand, served the clear mead.

    Beowulf

    Anonymous

  • No henchman he worthied by weapons, if witness his features, his peerless presence!

    Beowulf

    Anonymous

  • At sight of them, I swung round and gripped my henchman by the shoulder.

  • "Wh-h—" stuttered the henchman, and then almost snatched it from Tim's hand.

    Sonnie-Boy's People

    James B. Connolly

  • For his tone was that of the great man addressing his henchman.

    The Plum Tree

    David Graham Phillips


British Dictionary definitions for henchman

henchman

noun plural -men
  1. a faithful attendant or supporter
  2. archaic a squire; page
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Word Origin

C14: hengestman, from Old English hengest stallion + man; related to Old Norse hestr horse, Old High German hengist gelding
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for henchman

n.

mid-14c., hengestman, later henshman (mid-15c.) "high-ranking servant (usually of gentle birth), attendant upon a king, nobleman, etc.," originally "groom," probably from man (n.) + Old English hengest "horse, stallion, gelding," from Proto-Germanic *hangistas (cf. Old Frisian hengst, Dutch hengest, German Hengst "stallion"), perhaps literally "best at springing," from PIE *kenku- (cf. Greek kekiein "to gush forth;" Lithuanian sokti "to jump, dance;" Breton kazek "a mare," literally "that which belongs to a stallion").

Perhaps modeled on Old Norse compound hesta-maðr "horse-boy, groom." The word became obsolete in England but was retained in Scottish as "personal attendant of a Highland chief," in which sense Scott revived it in literary English from 1810. Sense of "obedient or unscrupulous follower" is first recorded 1839, probably based on a misunderstanding of the word as used by Scott.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper