horns

horns
   In popular culture for centuries past, the phrase 'he wears the horns' was used to designate a cuckold, and rather than bringing forth sympathy it has been treated as a joke of which people never seem to tire. The metaphor of the horns was so well understood that it could be referred to obliquely by writers - 'Let him dub her husband knight of the forked order' (1592) and also in Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus ((1594) ii. iii). An appropriate gesture, with index and little finger extended, thumb and other fingers curled into the palm, was available for insulting people: one story which attempts to account for this explains that the knights who were away on the Crusades used the symbol of the horn as a device on their shields, and a horn therefore came to mean someone who had been away from his wife for a long time. See also Charlton Horn Fair for another alleged cuckoldry connection.
   A different kind of symbolism is sketched out by William Andrews (Old Church Lore (1891), 65-79) in the form of 'charter horns'. He identifies several existing horns which are taken as evidence of ancient land grants or charters, and links these with customs which still have hornblowing elements such as Hungerford Hocktide, and the Ripon hornblower.
   ■ Hazlitt, 1905: 327-8.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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