I have been reading Scott's Ivanhoe recently and have come across a word I cannot find a meaning for: outheroding. In the novel it appears in a discussion of footwear:

Fur and gold were not spared in his garments; and the point of his boots, outheroding the preposterous fashion of his time, turned up so very far, as to be attached, not to his knees merely but to his very girdle, and effectually prevented him from putting his foot into the stirrup.

A search of the internet produces a reference here where it appears as

The characters in this act frisk about, here, there, and every where, as teasingly as the Jack o' Lantern-lights which mischievous boys, from across a narrow street, throw with a looking-glass on the faces of their opposite neighbours. Bertram disarmed, outheroding Charles de Moor in the Robbers, befaces the collected knights of St. Anselm, (all in complete armour) and so, by pure dint of black looks, he outdares them into passive poltroons.

which doesn't help much in establishing what the word means.

Does anyone know what outheroding is?


4 Answers 4


The meaning Scott intended is to outdo in absurdity (I came across that unusual definition in an online dictionary, but lost the reference - sorry).

All my dictionaries limit their definition to outdo in cruelty, if they even list the word at all. The proverbial saying is to out-Herod Herod - which isn't particularly common in the first place, but when it is used, that's nearly always the form.

In all Google NGram's vast corpus, outherod (or outHerod) appears on average less than once a year, and nearly all of those occur as outHerod Herod in the actual text (i.e. - explicitly repeating the full saying). NGrams doesn't support searching for out-herod, but presumably there would be more results for that if it did.

The expression appears in this quite old text of Shakespeare's Hamlet as it outHerod's Herod, but I couldn't say if that's how the Bard himself wrote it. However, I suspect he may have been the first to write it at all.

Note that out-(someone) (someone) is a fairly standard way of generating "one-off" expressions like this today. Google returns 130K hits for out-Bush Bush and 50K for out-Blair Blair, for example. That compares to 20K for the Herod version, just to put it in context.

In my opinion, out-Herod (irrespective of hyphenation or capitalisation) isn't really a 'word' at all. It's just a transient lexical element that no more deserves to be in the dictionary than out-Obama (which gets over 230K Google hits, by the way).

I'm no biblical scholar, but I don't think Herod has any particular reputation for extravagance or absurdity. As far as I know, extreme cruelty as exemplified by the Massacre of the Innocentswas his proverbial quality. So I think Scott's usage was grammatically, typographically and semantically perverse, to say the least.

  • so presumably the pronunciation is out - hair' - owe - ding as opposed to ow' - the - row - ding?
    – Mitch
    May 22, 2011 at 0:52
  • 1
    @Mitch: Absolutely. Some of the entries I leafed though in NGram actually transcribed it as outHerod, which makes that a bit clearer. May 22, 2011 at 4:04

"outheroding" is a present participle form of "outherod".

Here is the definition for "outherod".

to outdo in extravagance, violence, or excess: His cruelty out-Herods Herod.


outheroding [present participle form of outherod] means:

    "To surpass someone in cruelty or evil".

refers to the figure of biblical Herod, who allegedly had the innocent babies slaughtered. In popular medieval churchplays often presented by actors in an exaggerated way as pure evil. That is what Hamlet refers to when he talks to a troup of actors he asks to stage the murder of his father, meaning that to achieve the effect wished for (mirroring his horrible deed to his uncle) they have to act in a realistic way.

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