English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I'm reading Game of Thrones, in English, and when some Heraldry shields are shown as the novel goes, I have some doubts about the meaning on some words. Or given the context some words don't mean what I know as the definition of them. Maybe some those are misspelled and I'm breaking my coconut trying to deduce what they actually mean.

Here are some. If I find more words that leave me misplaced I'll let you know with another question.

What does the highlighted words mean?

  • House Ruthermont - Five black starfish on a gold pale, on pean

  • House Bolling - Vairy orange and blue; upon a black canton, a golden stag beneath an orange bend sinister

  • House Wagstaff - Five yellow mascles on green

  • House Staedmon of Broad Arch - A black dagger piercing a red heart on white de sang within an undulating red border

share|improve this question
Heraldry has its own, highly specialized vocabulary. You'd probably do better just looking them up here: apl385.com/gilling/herldref.htm – JSBձոգչ Jun 29 '11 at 13:11
Thanks, I'm asking this primarily because English isn't my native language, so some words I couldn't even deduce them by context. – apacay Jun 29 '11 at 13:32
native English speakers cannot figure out heraldry words by context, either. Don't feel that this means you don't have a good grasp on English. – Peter Shor Jun 29 '11 at 13:41
I'll take advantage of this question to shamelessly promote my Area 51 Q&A proposal: Vexillology and Heraldry – Jaime Soto Jun 29 '11 at 18:06

These look like correct heraldic terms at a quick glance. As with any specialist vocabulary you need a specialist dictionary: Heraldsnet has a pretty good one that should answer most of your questions.

In reality, those descriptions should have been a good deal less comprehensible: the colours are all given in English rather than their proper heraldic names! House Rutherment should really be "Five starfish sable on a pale or, on pean."

share|improve this answer
I noticed the color thing too. I am guessing that the author wanted to use relatively clear language, but it's hard to describe the shapes other than by using the heraldic descriptions, whereas colors are colors. – Kit Z. Fox Jun 29 '11 at 13:21
@Kit: I'm a little surprised, GRRM does know better. Perhaps his editor asked him to have mercy :) – user1579 Jun 29 '11 at 13:23
I suspect GRRM is quite well aware of the need for balancing comprehensibility with accuracy, even without prompting by an editor. – Peter Shor Jun 29 '11 at 13:42
The background on the page you linked makes me cry. – JSBձոգչ Jun 29 '11 at 13:42
  • Pean: a heraldic fur that is the reverse of the erminois fur; see the Wikipedia article.
  • Vairy: Charged with vair; variegated with shield-shaped figures. See Vair.
  • Sinister: In heraldry, the side of an escutcheon or coat of arms that is to the left of the bearer (opposed to dexter).
  • Mascles: a charge consisting of a lozenge with a lozenge-shaped hole in the middle. Also called voided lozenge.
  • de sang: Translates literally from French as "of blood". According to the Handbook of Heraldry, it is a descriptor applied to a gutté, or goutte – (droplet-shaped charge), to denote its tincture. Goutte de sang would therefore mean a droplet of blood, i.e. a red droplet.

(N.B. that a charge in the context of heraldry is an object that can be placed on the field of a shield.)

share|improve this answer
Note that for the OP especially, the definitions provide little clarity as they merely introduce more specialty terms. – horatio Jun 29 '11 at 13:38
@horatio: True... But it's a start, and at least a few of the links that have pictures might help. I had no idea what any of those terms meant at all, until half an hour ago. (The amount of jargon that's used in heraldry sort of makes me glad I'm a metallurgist, and not a heraldist.) – bracho monacho Jun 29 '11 at 13:48
I agree, the ones with imagery help tremendously. – horatio Jun 29 '11 at 13:54

Heraldic terms are very specific to heraldry and follow a definite, concise pattern. Blazoning a shield is intended to provide an exact description of a coat-of-arms, so that the bearer may be known immediately.

pean: a black (sable) background with gold (or) ermine shapes on it.
vairy: describes a particular shape, almost like a vase, in a repeated pattern
sinister: refers to the direction of the diagonal stripe (bend); this one starts on the upper sinister corner, which means left, but is the upper right to a spectator.
mascles: An open diamond shape that looks like chainmail links.
de sang: means there are drops of blood, although I am surprised that it does not say gouttes de sang.

There is also a web site that contains the heraldry for most of these houses. From that site: House Ruthermont House Bolling House Wagstaff House Staedmon

share|improve this answer
I know,I've already saw those but, for example the pean cant be explained by the image. The Vairy still couldn't deduce what did it mean, neither Mascle. Sinister as left I did. But how could I find some translations when I'm trying to rephrase this to someone? Based in the image I just can't. – apacay Jun 29 '11 at 13:37
@apacay: the Wikipedia article [en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vair] supports thefreedictionary's definition of vair as being fur. – bracho monacho Jun 29 '11 at 13:53
Pean and vair are both furs (on the actual shields). The conventional representation of vair (a weasel-like creature) is that particular pattern in black and white, representing skins placed side by side, alternately head up and tail up: so vairy is the same pattern in different colours. Pean is similar: the pattern represents the tails hanging down. – TimLymington Jun 29 '11 at 15:42
@apacay Pean describes the black background with the gold "ermine" shapes (which is the three dots with the arrowhead under it). Vairy describes the shape of the background pattern. Mascle is an open diamond shape. Are you looking for synonyms for these words? – Kit Z. Fox Jun 29 '11 at 15:57

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.