battle hams

Note: This entry was previously battle-hammed adj.

battle hams n pl [Etym unknown; attested also in 18th-cent Engl sources, one of which speaks of “cat or battle-hams” in ref to horses] Also battle-ham hips now chiefly among Black speakers; relic

Legs deformed in some way; hence adjs battle-hammed, battle-kneed having such legs. Note: In the early quots the meaning is most likely “cow-hocks” (in ref to horses) and “knock-knees” (in reference to people); in the later ones the ref may be to a combination of broad hips and knock-knees.

1727 N. Engl. Wkly Journal 11 Sept (DA), Ran-away from his Master. . . a young Negro Man-Servant, . . speaks pretty good English, has thick Lips, battle-ham’d, and goes something waddling. 1743 PA Gaz. (Philadelphia 2 June [3]/3, [Advt:] Run away from Andrew Jolley, of Wilmington, an Apprentice Lad, . . about 16 Years old, of fair Complexion, and battle-knee’d. 1766 Ibid 15 May [4]/3 MD, [Advt:] Run away from his Bale, . . James Smith . . ; he is a short well set Fellow, somewhat battle kneed, down Look, and black Hair. Ibid 29 May [4]/2, [Advt:] A large black Gelding, . . Battle hammed, but low in Flesh, branded on the near Shoulder W. 1773 in 1983 Windley Runaway Slave 2.97 MD, [Advt:] Ran away from the Subscriber . . living in Calvert County, Two Country born Negro Men, . . one named Jacob, about Six Feet high, strait limbed, . . ; the other named Marlborough, about Five Feet Ten Inches high, knock kneed or battle hammed. 1804 W. Star (Stockbridge MA) 7 Jan 1/3, [Advt:] Taken up by the subscriber a light bay Mare, . . hump back, battle hams, grayish legs, and shod all round. 1928 in 2009 Calt Barrelhouse Words 14 [Black], She got a great big nose, she got crooked toes / I love my Tillie Lee / She got big thick lips, she got battle-ham hips / Nice as she can be—William Moore, “Tillie Lee,” 1928. 1942 Hurston Dust Tracks 143 FL, It is an everyday affair to hear somebody called a mullet-headed, mule-eared, wall-eyed, . . butt-sprung, battle-hammed, knock-kneed, . . unmated so-and-so! 1942 Hurston in Amer. Mercury 55.94 NYC [Glossary of Harlem slang], Battle-hammed—badly formed about the hips. 1968 DARE (Qu. X38, Joking names for unusually big or clumsy feet) Inf NC49, Battle-hammed [hæmdᵻd]—knocks ankles.

Etymological Supplement:

1758? The History of Sir Roger and His Son Joe, 2d ed (London) 2.123, There was her bald Face, he said, her whisk Tail, and a little battle hammed behind, all so plain and natural, that this could be no other than his own Beast.

<Eighteenth Century Collections Online; ESTC#: T167714>

1773 John Blunt Practical Farriery 12, Cat or battle-hams look mean, and are generally accompanied with weakness.

<Eighteenth Century Collections Online; ESTC#: T200977>

1790 Defoe Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe 3.71, Whence comes it to pass, that we have so many young men brought to the bar, and to the pulpit, with stammering tongues . . ; while, on the other hand, Nature’s cripples, bow-legged, battle-hammed, and half-made creatures, are bred tumblers and dancing-masters?

<Eighteenth Century Collections Online; ESTC#: T073015>