I have to admit to the guilty pleasure of devouring George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels. I was first hooked, like so many others this year, by HBO’s adaptation of the first in the series, A Game of Thrones. The novels are addicting and have been praised for levels of complexity and “historical realism” that are seldom seen in fantasy fiction. Despite being set in a world where supernatural creatures are a real, although still rare, presence, Martin has drawn heavily on historical facts of late medieval life in creating his setting.

One of the delights of the books is that there are insights into daily life from centuries ago in the real world to be found in the details of the story. It is in those details that the reader often finds a vocabulary and usage of words that even well-read fans of fantasy fiction might not be familiar with.  In filling in those gaps in my own knowledge (I’ve known for years that crenelated describes the raised and recessed top of a castle’s wall, but I’d never seen the word merlon.) I found that there isn’t one resource for deciphering the vocabulary and usage in the books. So, I thought I would compile one here. To that end, here is my humble attempt at making a glossary for Martin’s books. I hope it will contain not only definitions and notes on usage, but also illustrations and cited examples from the text.

The heraldic terms included in ASOIF appear infrequently, sometimes as a hapax legomenon within each novel, and so I will not include them here. I have found this illustrated glossary of heraldic terms to be useful in discerning gyrony from chevronny.

Terms that are “series-specific” are indicated with “(ss)” in front of the deinition.

A

Arakh
(ss) the half-sword, half-scythe weapon of Dothraki warriors

B

Bailey
a courtyard enclosed by a curtain wall, cf. ward def. 2
Balustrade
the supporting shafts or columns of a bannister or handrail taken together as a whole, the individual supporting piece is a baluster
Bannerman
a feudal vassal that swears military fealty to their lord
Battlement
a crenelated (cf.) parapet atop a wall used for defense
Barbican
a fortified gateway on the outside of a castle’s defenses. See Pembroke Castle in Wales for an example.
Blandissory
a mixture of ground almonds, beef broth or fish broth, boiled with sweet wine. After this stock had been strained and boiled again, capon or fish, first pounded to pulp in a mortar and then “tempered” with milk of almonds and sugar, was put into the pot. Blanched almonds were added and the soup served piping hot (source)
Bloodrider
(ss) a member of the retinue of a Dothraki Khal (cf.) sworn to protect their leader with their lives
Bravos
(ss) young men from the city of Braavos who dress extravagantly, carry swords and duel each other in the streets at night
Brazier
a heating device consisting of a pan, box or bowl that holds hot coals

C

Capon
A castrated domestic rooster fattened for eating.
Catspaw
a person unwittingly used by another person to accomplish the other’s objectives, a patsy or fall guy. From La Fontaine‘s fable, “The Monkey and the Cat
Castellan
resident owner or custodian of a castle
Charger
a war horse of the medieval era
Cloth of gold
Fabric made from wrapping the weft with fine golden wire, or filé. The modern term for the equivalent is lamé.
Courser
a strong, swift war horse
Crannog
a partially or totally artificial island, usually found in lakes, rivers or estuaries.
Craven
adj. -cowardly
n. – a coward
Crenel
a space in the parapet of a battlement (cf.) which allows defenders to launch attacks outward, the space between merlons (cf.)

D

Destrier
the strongest and finest sort of warhorse, it is included, along with coursers and rounceys, within the category of chargers, cf.
Dirk
A long-bladed dagger of a kind formerly carried by Scottish Highlanders.
Drowned Man
(ss) a worshipper the Drowned God of the Iron Islands who has undergone a ceremonial controlled drowning
Dugs
breasts, a somewhat derogatory term
Dwarf’s Penny
(ss) the tax on prostitution in King’s Landing levied by the Master of Coin, Tyrion Lannister

E

Escutcheon
the shield shape used to show a coat of arms

F

G

Garron
another type of horse
Godswood
(ss) a wooded grove or copse, usually containing a weirwood tree (cf.) used to worship the Old Gods of the First Men
Gorget
a piece of armor for the neck image
Goodson, Gooddaughter
a stepson or stepdaughter
Groat
1. (ss) a coin worth four pennies, compare to the English four pence piece
2. any large and thick coin
3. a hulled grain or cereal; oat, wheat, barley, buckwheat, e.g.
Grumkin
(ss) a fairytale monster

H

Hardskin
(ss) another term for armor
Hippocras
a type of spiced wine. Similar to mulled wine except that the spices sit longer in the wine and the mixture is not heated together. It may be served hot or room temperature.
Horselord
(ss) a colloquial name for the Dothraki
Hedge Knight
A landless, itinerant knight with no master. This somewhat derogatory term is a reference to the knight having no other options but to sleep outside, “under hedges”.
Hrakkar
(ss) Dothraki a white lion, found in the East

I

Iron Fleet
(ss) the longships of the Iron Islands, collectively

J

K

Khal
(ss) Dothraki the warlord of a Dothraki horde, or khalasar (cf.), compare to the real-world term “khan”
Khalasar
(ss) Dothraki the roving, clan-like group of mounted Dothraki marauders and their camp followers
Khaleesi
(ss) Dothraki the wife of the khal (cf.). Her status offers her some benefits and protection, but she does not rule. Upon the death of her Khal, she is taken to the city of Vaes Dothraki to serve on a council of similarly widowed khaleesi.
Kingsmoot
(ss) a traditional convention of the Iron Islands wherein the captains of the Iron Fleet (cf.) choose their king.

L

League
a measurement of distance equaling three miles, or, more informally, the distance a man or horse can walk in an hour
Leal
loyal, faithful
Lichyard
a graveyard
Lizard-lion
(ss) a large reptile inhabiting swamps and rivers, presumably a crocodilian

M

Magnar
(ss) Old Tongue lord
Manticore
1. (ss) a creature, found on the Jade Islands, resembling a scarab beetle when at rest and having a humanoid and malignant-looking face. They have a poisonous sting.
2. A mythical beast typically depicted as having the body of a lion, the face of a man, and the sting of a scorpion image
Manse
a large, stately residence or the house of a cleric or minister
Milk of the poppy
(ss) opium
Mooncalf
a foolish person
Murder hole
an opening in the bottom of battlements or the ceiling of fortified entryways that allows defenders to drop or shoot projectiles down upon attacking forces. example 1, 2, 3

N

Name day
(ss) birthday
Neep
Scottish a turnip
Niello
A black compound of sulfur with silver, lead, or copper, used for filling in engraved designs in silver or other metal
Night soil
human or animal excrement

O

Oubliette
a dungeon cell accessible only from the top, from the French for “forgotten place”

P

Palanquin
a covered litter supported by poles borne by men
Palfrey
A highly valued and well-bred riding horse of the Middle Ages.
Pauldron
a piece of armor covering the shoulder, extending downwards to the armpit, and sometimes reaching the back and chest image
Portcullis
a heavy grille, usually made of strong wood or metal, that slides down to block the entrance into fortifications of a castle or town
Postern
a secondary gate or entrance, particularly in the fortifications surrounding a town or keep

Q

R

Rasher
A portion of sliced meat, especially bacon
Roundel, or rondel
1. a stiff-bladed dagger with a round handgaurd and round or spherical pommel. It was carried as a sidearm by knights in tournaments where it could be used to puncture chainmail or joints in the armor of an opponent.
2. circular pieces of metal armor, used commonly to protect the vulnerable armpit area, also called a besagew image
Rouncey
an ordinary, all-purpose horse
Rushes
reeds; long, fibrous plants that grow in low-lying marshy lands. They were spread on the floor to collect dirt and debris and insulate feet from the cold of the floor’s surface, and periodically removed and refreshed.

S

Samite
a luxurious and heavy silk fabric of a twill-type weave, often including gold or silver thread
Seneschal
an officer in noble houses charged with domestic administration and justice
Sellsword
a mercenary
Slashed
when said of clothing, having an underlying fabric visible through openings in the top layer of fabric image
Snark
(ss) a fairytale monster
Solar
a upper-story room in a medieval manor house usually used as the family’s sleeping and living quarters. Its name derives from the French seul meaning “alone”, rather than any relation to the sun. In ASOIF it refers to a lord’s private study or drawing room.
Stone caves
(ss) another term for castles
Stot
an inferior sort of horse

T

Thrall
a slave
Torc, var. torq or torque
a large, usually rigid, ring worn around the neck, typically made from strands of metal twisted together.\
Trencher
originally a piece of stale bread upon which food was served, later a wooden board or platter
Turncloak
a traitor or defector, compare with turncoat

U

V

Vair
squirrel fur, alternating between grey-blue and grey-white, used to line and trim garments
Valonqar
(ss) Valyrian: younger brother

W

Ward
1. Someone placed under the protection of a guardian
2. a courtyard enclosed by a fortified wall
Wayn
a two-wheeled wagon
Weirwood
(ss)a large tree with white bark and red leaves and sap, considered sacred to the Old Gods. Many weirwood trees in Westeros have faces that were carved into them by the Children of the Forest in antiquity. When serving as the central tree in a godswood, they are sometimes referred to as heart-trees.
Whicker
neigh, whinny or snigger
Wroth
(ss) n. wrath, anger, fury
adj. wrathful

X

Y

Z

Zorse
(ss) a striped horse-like creature, presumably, a zebra