Sunday, December 30, 2012


I don't often choose words that are completely new to me, but this one was--at least I have no recollection of it. It came to me by way of a Christmas card, and the quotation was:

The lion with the fatling on did move
A little child was leading them with love:

It comes from the border of a painting by Edward Hicks from 1826 called "The Peacable Kingdom"--one version of it, anyway, which is housed in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Now other people might want to know more about Hicks, or the style of his work or what the couplet means. But I just want to know what a fatling is. I may have run across it at some point, but it's sure not something that comes up in common speech. It's really quite a delightful sounding word, but it would sound a bit insulting today. From the picture, it's apparently the cow, but let's find out.


A fatling, not too surprisingly, is simply a young animal being fattened up for slaughter. In some translations of the Bible, the world fatling is translated as fatted calf, which may sound a bit more familiar. As Hicks paraphrase in the form of a poem is taken from Isaiah 11:6 , and there is already a calf in that translation it is probably the larger white animal in the painting, which I guess is a kid.

It's interesting that Hicks painted many versions on this theme, over a hundred, in fact, and this probably not the most famous one. That might be this one from the National Gallery, circa 1834:
Getting back to the word, it came into usage around 1534, and  as far as I can tell has largely disappeared. I wonder if it's the "fat" or the "for slaughter" aspect that's most to blame for this. A fatling sounds pretty adorable if you can suppress from your thoughts its inevitable end.
There is apparently one form of resurgence, though. According to the Urban Dictionary, it now can refer to an overweight or obese child as well.
It's the Urban Dictionary, folks. You weren't expecting something kind, were you?


  1. Ooh! I could go see that fatling later this week!

  2. Yes, you could. And maybe you'll be able to pin down precisely which one the fatling is. Frankly, the child is a little bit of a fatling himself.

    Which in the Christian story is, I guess, appropriate.

  3. I'm feeling like a bit of a fatling myself after this holiday season!

  4. 'Twas the season, Julie. Fatling just makes excess sound a bit better somehow.