Reading an excellent history book, I found two words on the one page that you come across pretty often describing despicable kinds of followers.
Got me, as ever, thinking about where they might have come from and it turned out that while having no link in their origins, they both came into use in the first part of the 1800s. Possibly a social reason for that? I don’t know.
Anyway, the first one is “henchmen”.
It comes from an old Scottish word for a groom (as in guy who looks after the lord’s horse) and implied a servant of high rank, but by the 1800s had taken the narrower meaning of personal attendant of a Highland chief. This was then changed in English to have the meaning we currently attribute to it.
What’s doubly cool about this is that the Old English word hengest – the ‘hench’ part of the modern word – means ‘horse’, but may well itself come from an older word that’s meaning is a combination of ‘gushing forth’ and ‘jumping’. Not too bad a description of a horse I think.
And there ends my word nerdery for now…