Wednesday Words: Of Chain Mail and Eels

Wednesday Words

Welcome to the first edition of Wednesday Words! Next week will start the Halloween edition, which will run all through October. If you have any suggestions, feel free to comment!

Today’s first word is spins wheel


A habergeon made by Deviant Artist MindPsy
A habergeon made by Deviant Artist MindPsy

Definition: A sleeveless mail coat1

The word habergeon comes from Old French and, just like French, contains an “o” that is not pronounced. It is pronounced hab-er-gen. I’ve come across an alternate spelling that goes “haubergeon”. Once again, just drop the extra vowels.

The habergeon is also called the “little hauberk” and its first known use was in the 14th century2. Now, if you aren’t a medieval armor geek, you’re probably wondering, “What the hell is a hauberk?” Just take the image on the left, make it longer and add long sleeves and VOILA: a hauberk.

So, essentially, a habergeon is the lighter, shorter, and sleeveless version of the hauberk. I’ve come across one source that states the habergeon would have been worn under the hauberk but I don’t think that’s right3 because, in another place, it states that the habergeon would have protected only the neck and shoulders4.

I’m having a bit of trouble finding more than this. If anyone out there knows about medieval chain mail, please comment below! So far, all we’ve established is that the habergeon is the armor version of a wife-beater.



Definition: Yellow eel formerly used in medicinal foods5

As far as definitions go, this has to be the vaguest definition on the planet. A xanthareel is a yellow eel? A two second Google search demonstrated that there are many, many, many yellow eels swimming in the oceans and rivers of this wide, wide world. And medicinal? Which medicinal? Are we talking American, British, or Japanese?

Heaven save us from vague definitions.

After squawking with indignation at my computer screen, I did some more digging, and came across the only comment on a page that, at first, offered no explanation of a xanthareel. The comment read, simply, that the xanthareel is “an eel whose yellow flesh was an ingredient in medicinal foods for treating eye diseases, especially for aiding healing after cataract removal by ‘couching'”6. Thank you, user name oroboros, wherever you are.

After a bunch of wandering around, I found references to eels having medicinal value in webpages concerning Muslim heritage7 and the folk medicine of the Korean, Chinese and Japanese8.

"Aquilla Japanica" from opencage, Wikipedia
“Aquilla Japonica” from opencage, Wikipedia (Look at how smug that bastard is, giving me a merry chase around the Internet.)

So, we are dealing with the Orient. When I realized that, I dropped the “xanthareel” and just looked up “yellow eel China”. After some reading, I realized I was looking at this the wrong way. The yellow eel is not a particular kind of eel, as the definition suggests. It’s a stage in the life cycle of eels!

Essentially, a yellow eel is an immature eel. The European9, Japanese10, and American eels11 all go through a yellow eel stage. To say “I ate yellow eel” is like saying, “I ate veal”. There are many kinds of cows but the only important part was that it was veal (that is, meat from a baby cow).

So, if someone ever serves you a xanthareel, you now know they are serving you an immature eel from just about anywhere on this planet. Don’t you feel smarter?

1″Habergeon”, Oxford Dictionaries,

2″Habergeon”, Merriam-Webster Dictionary,

3″Habergeon”, Fine Dictionary,

4″Habergeon”, Oxford Dictionaries,

5″List of Unusual Words: X”, The Phrontistery,

6″Xantharee”, Wordnik,

7″Food as Medicine in Muslim Civilization”, Muslim Heritage,

8″What is the medicinal value of eel?”, The Times of India,

9″European eel”, Wikipedia,

10″Japanese eel”, Wikipedia,

11″American eel”, Wikipedia,


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