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What does it mean when someone says to you (especially if you have recently been bestowed a new honor), "Do I have to pull my forelock for you now?"

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  • Never encountered this in the States...
    – Smithers
    Apr 7, 2015 at 19:39
  • This was comment made by a resident of the UK to an American on an online forum. So, the comment did not originate from the States, but was directed there. Apr 7, 2015 at 23:38
  • Understood, thanks for clarification. Wouldn't want an ESL to think it common in the wrong place! :)
    – Smithers
    Apr 7, 2015 at 23:40

4 Answers 4

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Pulling or Tugging your forelock literally means pulling on your hair at the front middle as you bow your head, and historically was a sign given to a superior upon encountering them (similar to a salute in the military).

For example a peasant might tug their forelock to their lord. It's rather like tipping your hat both literally and figuratively, but much more about rank than respect and no headgear is required.

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  • 7
    I've only ever used the tug version myself. I always assumed it was what peasants had to do because they couldn't afford hats to "doff". Apr 7, 2015 at 17:50
  • I saw this portrayed in one of the Horatio Hornblower TV series (with Ioan Gruffudd). In an early episode, the sailors tugged their forelocks as a sign of respect to the eponymous character.
    – rajah9
    Oct 13, 2016 at 16:55
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Because the Western world no longer observes the custom of having a tenant or laborer pull his forelock as a sign of respect when the lord or squire passes by, alluding facetiously to performing the old custom is a way of sarcastically asking someone whether the deferential person (the one asking the question) has been sufficiently obsequious already or whether further self-humbling is necessary to satisfy the other person. Of course, being sarcastic, the question isn't obsequious in the least.

Depending on the relationship between the speaker and the hearer(s), the question "Do I have to pull my forelock for you now?" may be intended in a light-hearted, good-humored way or in a rather bitter way.

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  • Thank you, Sven for your informative answer. Best Regards. Apr 7, 2015 at 23:37
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"pulling forelock" or "tugging [your] forelock means "show deference" or grovel: supposedly tugging at the front of one's hair (a forelock) was a sort of salute or sign or respect by someone, especially a peasant, to their better.

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  • Thank you for your prompt response and explanation. Cheers! Apr 7, 2015 at 18:38
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This is a very old religious gesture Semitic in origin and refers to offering your forelock to the master for him to pull--it is symbolic of the fetus attached by umbilical cord to the mother. Both Hebrew mysticism and Briton or Druidic mysticism recognize this gesture. It is shown in real form with the fetus at the end of the movie 2001 A Space Odysey.

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