Brewer's: Wolf

(in music). In almost all stringed instruments (as the violin, organ, piano, harp, etc.) there is one note that is not true, generally in the bass string. This false note is by musicians called a “wolf.”

The squeak made in reed instruments by unskilful players is termed a “goose.”

“Nature hath implanted so inveterate a hatred atweene the wolfe and the sheepe, that, being dead, yet in the operation of Nature appeareth there a sufficient trial of their discording nature; so that the enmity betweene them seemeth not to dye with their bodies; for if there be put upon a harpe strings made of the intralles of a sheepe, and amongst them one made of the intralles of a wolfe the musician cannot reconcile them to a unity and concord of sounds, so discording is that string of the wolfe.” —Ferne: Blazon of Gentrie (1586).

Here Mr. Ferne attributes the musical “wolf” to a wolf-gut string; but the real cause is a faulty interval. Thus, the interval between the fourth and fifth of the major scale contains nine commas, but that between the fifth and the sixth only eight. Tuners generally distribute the defects, but some musicians prefer to throw the whole onus on the “wolf” keys.


(Anglo-Saxon, wulf.)

The wolf that scatters venom through air and water, and will swallow Odin when time shall be no more.

The wolf that follows the sun and moon, and will swallow them ultimately. (Scandinavian mythology. The Wolf. So Dryden calls the Presbytery in his Hind and Panther.
Unkennelled range in thy Polonian plains, A $$$ foe the insatiate Wolf remains.

She-wolf of France.
Isabella le Bel, wife of Edward II. According to a tradition, she murdered the king by burning his bowels with a hot iron, or by tearing them from his body with her own hands.
She-wolf of France, with unrelenting fangs, That tearst the bowels of thy mangled mate.

Gray: The Bard.

Between dog and wolf. In Latin, “Inter canem et lupum ”; in French, “Entre chien et loup. ” That is, neither daylight nor dark, the blind man's holiday Generally applied to the evening dusk.

Dark as a wolf's mouth.
Pitch dark.

He has seen a wolf.
Said of a person who has lost his voice. Our forefathers used to say that if a man saw a wolf before the wolf saw him he became dumb, at least for a time.
Vox quoque Moerin Jam fugit ipsa; lupi Moerin videre priores.

Virgil: Bucolica, eclogue ix.

“`Our young companion has seen a wolf,' said Lady Hameline, `and has lost his tongue in consequence.' ” —Scott: Quentin Durward, ch. xviii.

To see a wolf is also a good sign, inasmuch as thy wolf was dedicated to Odin, the giver of victory.

He put his head into the wolf's mouth.
He exposed himself to needles danger. The allusion is to the fable of the crane that put its head into a wolf's mouth in order to extract a bone. The fable is usually related of a fox instead of a wolf. (French.)

Holding a wolf by the ears.
So Augustus said of his situation in Rome, meaning it was equally dangerous to keep hold or to let go. Similarly, the British hold of Ireland is like that of Augustus. The French use the same locution: Tenir le loup par les oreilles.

To cry Wolf!
To give a false alarm. The allusion is to the well-known fable of the shepherd lad who used to cry “Wolf!” merely to make fun of the neighbours, but when at last the wolf came no one would believe him.

In Chinese history it is said that Yëu-wâng, of the third Imperial dynasty, was attached to a courtesan named Pao-tse, whom he tried by various expedients to make laugh. At length he hit upon the following: He caused the tocsins to be rung as if an enemy were at the gates, and Pao-tse laughed immoderately to see the people pouring into the city in alarm. The emperor, seeing the success of his trick, repeated it over and over again; but at last an enemy really did come, and when the alarm was given no one paid attention to it, and the emperor was slain. (B.C. 770.) (See Amyclaean Silence.)

To keep the wolf from the door.
To keep out hunger. We say of a ravenous person “He has a wolf in his stomach,” an expression common to the French and Germans. Thus manger comme un loup is to eat voraciously, and wolfsmagen is the German for a keen appetite.

Duke of Gascony. One of Charlemagne's knights, and the most treacherous of all, except Ganelon. He sold his guest and his family. He wore browned steel armour, damasked with silver; but his favourite weapon was the gallows. He was never in a rage, but cruel in cold blood.

“It was Wolf, Duke of Gascony, who was the originator of the plan of tying wetted ropes round the temples of his prisoners, to make their eye-balls start from their sockets. It was he who had them sewed up in freshly-stripped bulls' hides and exposed to the sun till the hides in shrinking broke their bones.” —Croquemitaine, iii.

Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894

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