Words: browse, n. and v.

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
THE DISPUTE between French and English farmers would not have come about if cattle had simply been left to browse. This might conjure up a happy vision of a cow with hooves crossed upon a chaise-longue as she peruses a reference book, for all the world as if going through the rigours of sustaining a words column.

From old French brost, browse means young shoots and twigs, hence - from the 16th century onwards - cattle fodder and the act of so eating. As a verb, it took the same route, or perhaps directly from the French brouster, and is distinct from graze. Apparently first used of humans' eating by Shakespeare in Cymbeline, the word was adapted by Lamb (fittingly) in 1823 for the skimming of those books of a suitably browsy nature.