Once they were young men of esprit, young men of élan. A quarter of a century has passed and they are grey or balding, flabby or paunchy, gone in the fetlock or missing some fingers, but still as arrogant as satraps and with the mental refinement of a gatepost.

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

What is the meaning of the bold phrase? No foot? Or limping?


To be "gone in the {body part}" is a phrase used of animals, not people, except when the intention is to compare the person to an animal for comic* or satiric purposes, as here.

It is not the language of the typical man-in-the-street. It is the unsentimental lingo of the groomsman, the dog breeder, the country veterinarian, the owner of livestock.

"Gone" in this usage means the particular body part is failing, worn out, or worn down from long use over a lifetime.

That old horse is gone in the knees.

*Compare the expression "he's gone in the head" which is in much the same register as "he's not playing with a full deck" or "he's got bats in the belfry" or "he's got a couple of screws loose."

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"Fetlock" usually refers to a particular part of the foot of some animals, but figuratively (though it seems rarely) it can mean the ankle.

To be "gone in the fetlock" likely means to have a foot missing, as in their foot ended ("gone") at the ankle ("in the fetlock").


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  • 1
    "gone" can mean worn out. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Oct 6 '15 at 8:28
  • "Worn out" in what sense? To have been eroded away, or to be tired? In the case of the latter, "to be tired in the ankle region" is rather a strange and trivial affliction in comparison to others in the sentence. If you meant "to have worn out one's ankle by using it so much that it locks up or hurts too much", then I grant you that that is a valid interpretation, but pales somewhat when juxtaposed against the missing fingers that follow. – LiveMynd Oct 6 '15 at 8:37
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    Like bad knees or bad ankles worn out from long heavy use. I don't think the sentence means that they're amputees, missing fingers notwithstanding. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Oct 6 '15 at 8:38
  • Now that you mention it, to have your back "go" on you doesn't mean that your back disappears, but that it succumbs to strain and becomes painful and you basically can't use it as you used to. – LiveMynd Oct 6 '15 at 8:45
  • books.google.com/… – Tᴚoɯɐuo Oct 6 '15 at 8:45

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