I came across this sentence in Froude's English Seamen in the Sixteenth Century discussing the actions of Queen Elizabeth...

She preferred to let her subjects discover for themselves that the terrible Spaniard before whom the whole world trembled was but a colossus stuffed with clouts.

I was wondering what a clout was. Consulting the dictionary here produces a number of meanings, including a strong blow, an archery target and a piece of cloth, but none of these seem to fit, nor does the slang meaning of a turd (as in horse clouts).

Does anyone know what a clout could be in this context?

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    "stuffed with clouts" sounds like your pieces of cloth definition Commented Apr 29, 2011 at 9:43
  • 1
    Not in this context, but a clout is also a sort of nail.
    – Richard A
    Commented May 11, 2011 at 11:56
  • John Masefield also has this line > "the sailor, the stoker of steamers, the man with the clout,/ the > shantyman bent at the halyards putting a tune to the shout" ... I have this idea of a sort of bludgeon but I have no idea why or where from. Merriam-Webster adds the idea of a piece if leather.
    – user22529
    Commented Jun 18, 2012 at 20:48
  • @Billy I thought it was cleaning rags here (i.e., the sailor swabbing the deck), but again, I have no idea why. Commented Jun 18, 2012 at 21:00
  • The contexts seems as it is refering to cutton balls
    – user194839
    Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 12:07

5 Answers 5


Noad gives

clout |klout| noun 1 informal a heavy blow with the hand or a hard object : a clout on the ear. 2 informal influence or power, esp. in politics or business : I knew he carried a lot of clout. 3 archaic a piece of cloth or clothing, esp. one used as a patch. 4 Archery a target used in long-distance shooting, placed flat on the ground with a flag marking its center. • a shot that hits such a target.

The idea in your example seems to refer disparagingly to some monstrosity that is nothing more than a bunch of patchwork cloths, as defined in entry 3.

  • 5
    Stuffed with rags, then. I hadn't thought of that. Commented Apr 30, 2011 at 5:06
  • 1
    Ne'er cast a clout 'til May is out.
    – jaybee
    Commented Jul 1, 2011 at 12:15
  • 1
    @BrianHooper Clout is still used to mean cloth in some specific circumstances such as a Clootie Dumpling a suet pudding boiled in a cloot or cloth and at Clootie Wells where cloths are tied to tree branches to invoke good luck or cures. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clootie_well en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clootie
    – Spagirl
    Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 12:39
  • 'Dish clout' was still vernacular in the NW of the UK 60 years ago. Commented Feb 7 at 16:16

There is an English saying told me by my mother when I wanted to stop wearing winter coats in April "N'er cast a clout till May is out". Clout presumably here meaning any article of warm clothing

  • 1
    Re the 'ne'er cast a clout', the 'may' referred to is allegedly the hawthorn Blossom rather than the month. This always made sense to me because some years are colder than others and the blossom will more closely reflect the progress of the season than the calendar will.
    – Spagirl
    Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 12:36

She preferred to let her subjects discover for themselves that the terrible Spaniard before whom the whole world trembled was but a colossus stuffed with clouts.

Here, I suspect, given the mainly naval war between England and Spain at the time, "Clout" = sails or canvas rags.

The history of "clout"(n) is interesting, it developed a strong association with some sort of cloth.


A clout starts life as a patch of anything:

I. gen. Piece, patch, flat piece, shred.

1. A piece of cloth, leather, metal, etc., set on to mend anything; a patch. archaic and dialect.

a700 Epinal Gloss. 789 Pittacium, clut.

1570 P. Levens Manipulus Vocabulorum sig. Siv/2 Ye Clout set on a garment, or on a shoe, cento.

Clout then moves to some sort of material for general use:

II. spec. Piece of cloth, a cloth.

4.a. A piece of cloth (esp. a small or worthless piece, a ‘rag’); a cloth (esp. one put to mean uses, e.g. a dish-clout). archaic and dialect.

?c1225 (▸?a1200) Ancrene Riwle (Cleo. C.vi) (1972) 158 Þe deoflen schulen pleiȝen wið him..& dusten as an pilche clut.

1762 L. Sterne Life Tristram Shandy V. vii. 49 Driven, like turkeys to market, with a stick and a red clout.

Clout is then adopted for particular use and here refers to a piece of canvas

†6. Archery. The mark shot at: see quot. 1868; also, elliptical, a shot that hits the mark. Obsolete.

1584 W. Elderton New Yorks. Song sig. A/3 Archers good to hit the Clout.

1868 F. J. Furnivall in Babees Bk. (2002) Notes p. ciii Within 30 years they [sc. Royal Archers, Edinburgh] shot at a square mark of canvas on a frame, and called ‘the Clout’; and an arrow striking the target is still called ‘a clout’.

The canvas clout then becomes a metanym for a sail (which were made of canvas.)

>†5.c. A sail of a ship. Obsolete.

a1610 J. Healey tr. Theophrastus Characters 86 in tr. Epictetus Manuall (1636) When the Pilot gives the ship but a little clout.

which may have given rise to

Clout: 2b. Personal or private influence; power of effective action, weight (esp. in political contexts). slang (originally U.S.).

1958 Chicago Sun-Times 14 Dec. 78 Defendants in Chicago, as in Los Angeles, are found innocent on the age old legal premise of ‘reasonable doubt’—not, as the judge insinuated, ‘reasonable clout’.

with someone seeing the relationship between the area of sail and the force given to the ship.


However, in the background since c.1400, there has been another meaning of clout that appears to have a different origin:

III. A blow or strike, and related uses.

7.a. A heavy blow, esp. with the hand; a cuff. Cf. clod n. 11. *(11. A heavy solid blow. dialect. (Cf. clod v. 5, 6. 1886 Pall Mall Gaz. 25 Nov. 4/2 The man..lost his temper, and hit her a ‘clod’ in the head..A clod is a heavy, lumping blow.) Now dialect or vulgar.

a1400 Isumbras 619 There was none..That he ne gafe hym swylke a clowte, etc.

1887 W. Besant World Went v. 42 The gunner..found time to fetch me a clout on the head.

If we follow this clout/clod a little further, a clod is also

2. A coherent mass or lump of any solid matter, e.g. a clod of earth, loam, etc. (Formerly, and dialectally still sometimes, clot n. See also cloud n. 2.)

which will account for *horse clouts/clods"


The word "clouts" is used by author Kathleen Kent in Wolves of Andover as a diaper. "The child had resisted all efforts to stop wetting herself, demanding to still wear clouts," This definition fits with the piece of cloth or rags that hold turds albeit not for horses.


A term for Ladies substantial undergarments in the West Riding ( Huddersfield in particular) area of Yorkshire.

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