Instead of tripping the light fantastic and celebrating the new year with lots of hootin’ and a hollerin’ I was baby sitting my grandson, which is actually quite entertaining as he’s 16-months-old and learning to talk. Once he was in bed, my wife decided to watch “Troy,” possibly because she hasn’t read The Iliad and wanted to learn more about classical history, or perhaps because of the combination of Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom, Sean Bean, and Eric Bana.
In the movie, the Greeks build the famous “Trojan Horse” that was used to hide a bunch of Greeks who, once the horse had been taken inside the walls of Troy, snuck out and opened the gates to allow the rest of the Greek army to conquer the city.
The notion of the Trojan Horse has been used for many year by computer programmers to describe a piece of malicious software that appears safe but contains viral, destructive code. The modern-day Troy – your computer – opens its gates -firewall – and let’s in the Greeks. Or geeks.
The original text for Homer called this the Δούρειος Ἵππος, or “Wooden Horse,” and not a “Trojan Horse.” The first mention in English for the Trojan adjective appears to be in 1574 in a treatise by a Roman Catholic priest called Richard Bristow.
What niggles me is whether it really should be called a “Trojan Horse” because it was quite clearly a “Greek Horse.” It was built by Greeks, manned by Greeks, and offered by Greeks to the Trojans ostensibly as a peace offering. The fact that the Trojans took it into Troy is hardly justification to switch the adjective.
Proper adjectives that indicate where a noun comes from usually refer to the origin not the destination. After all, when you ship a Yorkshire pudding to your friend in the bordering county of Lancashire, it doesn’t magically become a Lancashire pudding – in the same way your Lancashire hotpot doesn’t become a Yorkshire one post transit.
Technically, therefore, talking about a “Greek Horse” to describe “…a person or thing intended secretly to undermine or bring about the downfall of an enemy or opponent” is accurate, but seeing as the phrase has been around for almost 500 years, I’m not confident it’s going to change.