Jonathan Swift's name, in "Gulliver's Travels" (1726), for brutes with human forms and vicious propensities. They are subject to the HOUYHNHNMS, the horses with human reason. Hence the use of the word for coarse, brutish or degraded persons.
[ from Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable, Millenium Edition, edited Adrian Room.]
"Their Shape was very singular and deformed, which a little discomposed me, so that I lay down behind a Thicket to observe them better. Some of them coming forward near the Place where I lay, gave me an Opportunity of distinctly marking their Form. Their Heads and Breasts were covered with a thick Hair, some frizzled and others lank; they had Beards like Goats, and a long ridge of Hair down their Backs and the fore-parts of their Legs and Feet, but the rest of their Bodies were bare, so that I might see their Skins, which were of a brown buff Colour. They had no Tails, nor any Hair at all on their Buttocks, except about the Anus; which, I presume, Nature had placed there to defend them as they sate on the Ground; for this Posture they used, as well as lying down, and often stood on their hind Feet. They climbed high Trees, as nimbly as a Squirrel, for they had strong extended Claws before and behind, terminating in sharp points, and hooked. They would often spring, and bound, and leap with prodigious Agility. The Females were not so large as the Males, they had long lank Hair on their Heads, but none on their Faces, nor any thing more than a sort of Down on the rest of their Bodies, except about the Anus, and Pudenda. Their Dugs hung between their Fore-feet, and often reached almost to the Ground as they walked. The Hair of both Sexes was of several Colours, brown, red, black and yellow. Upon the whole, I never beheld in all my Travels so disagreeable an Animal, nor one against which I naturally conceived so strong an Antipathy. So that thinking I had seen enough, full of Contempt and Aversion, I got up and pursued the beaten Road, hoping it might direct me to the Cabbin of some Indian. I had not got far when I met one of these Creatures full in my way, and coming up directly to me. The ugly Monster, when he saw me, distorted several ways every Feature of his Visage, and stared as at an Object he had never seen before; then approaching nearer, lifted up his Fore-paw, whether out of Curiosity or Mischief, I could not tell. But I drew my Hanger, and gave him a good Blow with the flat Side of it, for I durst not strike him with the Edge, fearing the Inhabitants might be provoked against me, if they should come to know, that I had killed or maimed any of their Cattle. When the Beast felt the smart, he drew back, and roared so loud, that a Herd of at least forty came flocking about me from the next Field, houling and making odious Faces; but I ran to the Body of a Tree, and leaning my Back against it, kept them off, by waving my Hanger. Several of this cursed Brood getting hold of the Branches behind, leaped up in the Tree, from whence they began to discharge their Excrements on my Head: However, I escaped pretty well, by sticking close to the Stem of the Tree, but was almost stifled with the Filth, which fell about me on every side." (from "Gulliver's Travels", Chapter 1)
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