Heraldry Terms Still Useful in Creative Writing Today
Though these heraldic words were originally used by French-speaking nobility across Europe to describe the layout of coats of arms or the garnishes of achievements, it’s easy to recycle them to artistically augment today’s literary fiction. I’ve proven this by adding a fictional example to each definition, and while many of these words were originally used as adverbs, it’s easy to re-stylize them into adjectives, or, when full liberty’s permitted, even nouns.
I believe these words would be especially useful in the grimdark or litHEMA genres, as they have the potential to add realism to medieval fantasy. They’d also be extremely useful in historical fiction, as they’d surely add a literary touch if used carefully in the right places (unlike I’ve done with my humorous examples LOL). Each word’s been patiently gleaned from A New Dictionary of Heraldry (1739). Enjoy!
Dragoneé – adverb + adjective – (of an animal, especially a lion) having the bottom half of a dragon. Example: Before the king’s court, the witch turned dragoneé and disgorged a stream of fire from her mouth.
Couchant – adverb + adjective – (of a beast) lying down with the head lifted up. Example: The horses were couchant, hobbled in the field.
Couché – adverb + adjective – (of any charge or device) lying along. Example: His tabard bore a serpent couché, perfectly symbolizing the lazy cheat that he was.
Sardonix – adverb + adjective – to stand blazoning by precious stones. Example: The sardonix pope feigned sympathy, and gave a sardonic chuckle only he himself could hear.
Passant – adverb + adjective – walking leisurely. Example: He looked out the window to see naught but sheep passant, and the shepherd pissing in a bush.
Caunterpassant – adverb + adjective – walking away from one another. Example: Everytime I try to remember what my late wife looked like, we’re caunterpassant and she has a carrot up her arse, that hag.
Saliant / Salient – adverb + adjective – (of a beast) when the right foot answers to the top dexter corner of the escutcheon, and the hindmost foot answers to the base sinister, as if it were leaping into action. Example: The saliant tiger, just as I thought my heart would explode from fear, began to purr.
Posé – adverb + adjective – (of a lion, horse or other beast) standing still with all four feet on the ground. Example: The cavalry charged toward the magician, until a spell rendered them posé, and they took on the semblance of statues.
Rampant – adverb + adjective – (of lions) standing upright so straightly that the crown of its head answers to the placement of its feet. Example: I dreamed of rampant lions and recumbent sheep. It’s needless to say it was bloody.
Lionné – adverb + adjective – used to express a leopard standing rampant like a lion. Example: The prince reminded me of a leopard lionné, the way he carried himself like a king.
Vilainie – adverb + adjective – used to express a rampant lion when only its upper half is displayed. Example: It doesn’t matter if I’m not ready, Mother. Father had his day. He was once a lion rampant. Now he’s naught but a lion vilainie, wishing he had more time.
Regardent / Tourné – adverb + adjective – (of beasts) with their head looking back toward its tail. Example: I entered the hall tossing my golden curls and pushing up my breasts, so that every man stood regardent to ogle me.
Courant – adverb + adjective – running. Example: The enemy turned tail, courant.
Effaré – adverb + adjective – (of any beast) rearing on its hind legs as if afraid or provoked. Example: By the light of a the passing torches, the shadow of a horse effaré cast across the bulwark.
Forcené – adverb + adjective – (of a horse specifically) rearing on its hind legs. For example: The battle-ready destrier rose forcené, and the rider gained the reach he needed to cut the hangman’s rope.
Gardant / Rencontre – adverb + adjective – (of a beast) full-faced, looking forward. Example: He didn’t think the werewolf in the window knew he was there, until, in the blink of an eye, it turned gardant and howled directly at him.
Deffait – adverb + adjective – (of a head) cut off from the body in a smooth line. A synonym for this is couped. Example: The deffait head rolled away from the guillotine.
Esteté – adverb + adjective – (of a head) torn off the body in a ragged line. Example: The esteté head jounced down the declivity and splashed in the lagoon.
Deshaché – adverb + adjective – having one’s limbs separated from the body. Example: The satisfied crowd left the deshaché outlaw to nourish the grass around the chopping block.
Faillis – adverb + adjective + noun – having a failure or fraction, or a splinter taken from it. Example: His faillis shield stopped the blow.
Esclatté – adverb + adjective + noun – used to express a thing forcibly broken away, like a broken wall, or a shield that has been shattered. Example: He unstrapped the useless esclatté from his arm and tossed it away as if into the middens.
Despouille – noun – the whole skin of a beast including the head. Example: Having been in the forest for years, his civilized clothes had long-ago rotted away, and all he wore was a despouille.
Couroné – adverb + adjective – crowned or bearing a crown. Example: My father, with his last words, called me an eagle couroné. To this day I think he couldn’t have been more wrong.
Bronchant – adverb + adjective – surmounting, or appearing above all else. Example: On the crest of the hill, the enemy stood bronchant, blaring their trumpets of war.
Caboched – adverb + adjective – (of beasts) used to express a head without a neck or body. Example: Finally, the werewolf had been slain, and its caboched head was mounted on a spear.
Disvelloped – adverb + adjective – (of an army) displayed with colors flying. Example: Never had I seen such a disvelloped, organized mass of men.
Diffamé / Infamé – adverb + adjective – (of a creature) having lost its tale. Example: The diffamé werewolf howled its lamentations, and the people in the town knew it would come for revenge.
Dez – plural noun – gambling dice. Example: Dez were emblazoned on his shield to reveal how he had risen to such heights.
Vol – noun – a wing. Example: You’ll need more than a vol to fly yourself out of this one, my friend. You’re on your own.
Sol – noun – the sun. Example: Sol, sol, oh magnificent sol! Prithee show thine face this day!
Luna – noun – the moon. Example: Don’t worry about me. I’ll be back before the luna is full again, my dear.
Decressant – adverb + adjective + noun – (of the moon) waning, or decrement, rather than crescent, for a crescent moon is waxing. A moon decressant, in French heraldry, is also known as a moon en decours.
Incressant – adverb + adjective + noun – (of the moon) waxing, or increment. A moon incressant, in French heraldry, is also known as a moon montant, or, of course, crescent.
Lyoncel – noun – a small young lion. Example: The lyoncels dream of glorious futures while the wicked old snakes hope for merciful deaths.
Marcassin – noun – a young wild boar. Example: Be careful, my son, for a marcassin is no easy catch. The mother boar may be watching.
Renard – noun – another word for fox. Example: Damn you, Henry, you’re a clever renard!
Loup-cervier – noun – a very large sort of wolf. Example: What in this world is this loup-cervier I see? Nothing I have seen before!
Rowt – noun – a company of wolves together. Example: The rowt made them rout.
Ployé – adverb + adjective – being bowed or bent. Example: His mouth went ployé in a way that betrayed no emotion.
Issuant – adjective + adverb – issuing forth as if halfway out, and the other half is following, as when a creature is being birthed, therefore protruding downward. Example: The mother troll fought on as she gave birth, battering knights aside as her baby hung issuant from her backside.
Naissant – adverb + adjective – issuing forth halfway like issuant except upward. Example: You don’t understand, my lord. The dragon is unable to leave the mouth of the volcano, for it has been cursed and is forever naissant.
Lampassé – adverb + adjective – (of a tongue, typically a beast’s) coming out of the mouth. Example: The lovers kissed with tongues lampassé.
Langue – noun – the tongue of a bird or beast, langued meaning having its tongue. Example: I ask you, my king; can a songbird sing without its langue?
Kenneleth – noun – the abode of a fox. Example: This city is no more than a haven for thieves and kenneleth for foxes.
Crenellé – adverb + adjective – embattled or crenellated. Example: The walls were crenellé, slithering along the mountainside like the back of a dragon.
Bretesse – adverb + adjective – counter-embattled, or crenellated on both sides. The walls were bretesse, allowing them to be defended from both sides if the courtyard was taken.
Englanté – adverb + adjective – bearing acorns. Example: Englanté trees rattled in the wind.
Debruized – adverb + adjective – debarred of its natural freedom or in grevious restraint. Example: The debruized old man begged for his last meal to be warm like his mother used to make it.
Enceppé – adverb + adjective – fettered, chained or girt around the waist, as done with monkeys. Example: My son was such a trouble-make, I used to have to bring him enceppé to the market.
Flory – adjective – flowery. Example: They camped in a flory meadow.
Garbe – noun – a sheaf of any kind of grain. Example: The wizard had a moldy garbe above the front door, some weird superstitious symbol our hero would surely have to ask about.
Ecusson – noun – a little escutcheon, also known as an inescutcheon when belonging to a heiress. Example: The knight had an ecusson engraved on the browplate of his bascinet.
Fondant – adverb + adjective – (of a bird of prey) swooping down to seize its prey. Example: The fondant raven chortled, disappearing behind a cloud.
Pasmé – adverb + adjective – (of a bird of prey) having grown so old that it’s nearly blind and bearing a crooked beak, no longer able to catch prey. Example: Don’t worry about my uncle, dear friend. Certes, he is a raven pasmé, and will do our plot no harm.
Essorant – adverb + adjective – (of any bird) on the ground with the wings expanded, as if wet and drying itself. Example: The raven flew through the waterfall to alight in the cave, where it rested essorant on a crystal.
Sommé – adverb + adjective – (of a beast) horned or bearing its horns. Example: I looked upon the vale and espied an army. Each man was sommé like a devil, and altogether they made the most horrible uproar of laughter, seeing how scared I was.
Renversé – adverb + adjective – (of chevrons, beasts or other charges) set with the head downward or contrary to its natural way of being. Example: With his head renversé, his eyes downcast, he whispered, “I tried, my king. I tried the best I could.”
Lumiere – plural noun – eye. Example: The recipe calls for the limieres of a vampire. Good luck obtaining those, witch-hunter.
Jessant – adjective + adverb – shooting forth as vegetables spring. Example: He had jessant feathers on his cap and a swagger in his step.
Naiant – adjective + adverb – in the posture of swimming. Example: The fresco depicted a dragon naiant.
Hauriant – adjective + adverb – (of a fish or fishes) raised vertically upright, as they do when they refresh themselves with their head above the waterline, sucking in the air. Example: The hungry traveller entered the hamlet and goggled a hauriant fish in a barrel.
Hure – noun – the head of a wild boar, bear, wolf or other fierce creature, but not of a lion. Example: The hunter never wasted a single scrap, and now he’d have a fourth hure to display in his hall.
Gurges – noun – a whirlpool. Example: I heard the pirate scum drowned in the gurges of the sea.
Gunstone – noun – a pellet or black roundle. Example: He had never seen such a device before, and he would never see one again, as it fired and sent a gunstone into the cavity of his mind.
Penoncles – noun – pennons used to adorn spears or lances, oft used to make an army seem larger than it was.
Pheon – noun – the barbed head of a dart or other weapon, made in the nature of a fishhook. Example: I wondered why my horse was bucking, until I saw the pheon in its rump.
Gardevisure – noun – the visor of a helmet. Example: Even the wise old man down the street would’ve sworn this wall was solid, until it rose like a gardevisure.
Rayonnant – adjective + adverb – is darting out with rays, as the sun does when it shines out; bearing rays of glory. Example: Lightning shot forth from the wizard’s staff, and in that moment the staff’s head was so rayonnant I had to cover my eyes with my buckler.