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'Twould have done your heart good, Mus' Springett, to see the two hundred of us masons, jewellers, carvers, gilders, iron-workers and the rest--all toiling like cock-angels, and this mad Italian hornet fleeing one to next up and down the chapel. Done your heart good, it would!'

This is from "Rewards and Fairies"/"The Wrong Thing" by Kipling.

http://pinkmonkey.com/dl/library1/digi300.pdf

I do not understand what "cock-angels" means.

The Note of Kipling Society Web says;

cock-angels perhaps to be glossed from OED:

http://www.kiplingsociety.co.uk/rg_wrongthing1.htm

What does it mean?

I am glad if someone kindly teach me.

3 Answers 3

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According to the second source you've provided, the prefix cock in this instance is connected to cocky, which the OED defines as:

conceited or confident in a bold or cheeky way.

So it means they worked like bold, confident angels.

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  • Thank you so much for your answer. It is so helpful for me!! Aug 25, 2016 at 0:39
  • Could it mean "male angels" instead, as opposed to "gender-neutral angels" and "female angels"? May 21, 2018 at 8:30
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I find the notion that these builders are somehow 'bold or cocky angels' rather unlikely. Whatever it is, a 'cock angel' presumably has something to do either with 'toiling', or else with the large assemblage of diverse workmen. My hypothesis (for which I have not been able to find a shred of evidence)is that the simile refers to swarming insects, and that "cock-angel" is a dialect form of 'cockchafer', a species of beetle once noted for appearing in great swarms.

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To save time and understand the meaning, you can simply replace "cock-angels" by another, less recondite and better-known term, such as "toiling like slaves/ toiling like ants/ toiling like oxen"... in other words, people or things that work hard. You can find even more examples in an online search by replacing the low-frequency "toiling" by the more common synonym "working". Then, you will find expressions such as "working like a beaver/dog/Trojan/donkey... etc.

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  • NB: This a a very old-fashioned type of literary English and many native speakers today would also find it difficult to understand. It has little relevance to the actual spoken language of the 21st century.
    – user46359
    May 21, 2018 at 7:49

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