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?

  • 3
    "stuffed with clouts" sounds like your pieces of cloth definition – Matt E. Эллен Apr 29 '11 at 9:43
  • Not in this context, but a clout is also a sort of nail. – Richard A May 11 '11 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 Jun 18 '12 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. – Peter Shor Jun 18 '12 at 21:00
  • The contexts seems as it is refering to cutton balls – user194839 Sep 5 '16 at 12:07

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.

  • 3
    Stuffed with rags, then. I hadn't thought of that. – Brian Hooper Apr 30 '11 at 5:06
  • 1
    Ne'er cast a clout 'til May is out. – jaybee Jul 1 '11 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 Sep 5 '16 at 12:39

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.


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

  • 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 Sep 5 '16 at 12:36

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