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Symbolic horns are used as a visual shorthand to indicate a man whose wife cheats on him
. This may involve allusions to horned animals such as bulls and stags. The symbolism is more rarely applied to women whose partners are unfaithful.
While in English-speaking countries this has been a practically Forgotten Trope
for over a century, it still thrives in European and Latin American countries where the word for cuckold literally means "horned", the Italian word "cornuto" being perhaps the most widely recognized example.
See also Bunny Ears Picture Prank
, Horned Humanoid
, Warding Gestures
. Contrast Crown of Horns
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Anime & Manga
- In the first episode of The Adventures of Mini-Goddess, this is used as a joke: Urd is trying to help a small rat get a wife, and sets him up with an appliance of some kind. However, the appliance says that she was in love with another kitchen appliance, and the two run off together, leaving the rat standing by himself, with the shadow of a cow and horns extending from his body.
- Oberon had these in the The Sandman story which riffed on A Midsummer Night's Dream, because his wife Titania was cheating on him.
- A comic by Walter Moers has a man (depicted literally wearing horns) s doing a walk and wonders why he always has to leave when his wife's brother is visiting her. In a later scene he wonders why she's wearing sexy underwear for her brother, but not for him. Then he remembers that she has no brother - and still doesn't make the connection, only thinking "women are odd".
- A woman gave birth to a black boy while her husband was away. She writes him:
"My dear. I gave birth to a boy. However, I had lactation problems, so the baby was nursed by an Ethiopian. You won't believe it, but the baby turned black."
- The husband is amazed. He writes to his mum about that. Soon after, he receives a reply
"Dear son. When you were born, I, likewise, had lactation problems, and you were nursed by a cow, but it wasn't until now that you grew horns."
- "Horns don't exist. They're just something somebody put on your head".
- Angels and Demons has a paragraph or two where Langdon notes that the symbology of this (keeping in mind who wrote it) means that it's actually a compliment to the one you're bunny ears-ing's virility.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, King Robert's banner is a stag, which leads to multiple puns when it comes out that his queenly wife cheated on him.
- And the phrase "give him horns" is used a lot. When Lancel Lannister is given an Arranged Marriage with 'Gatehouse' Ami, it's joked that he needs an armorer to make him a horned helm.
- In Max Shulman's novel Rally Round the Flag, Boys!, Harry Bannerman, who feels guilty about his affair with his boss's wife, imagines twelve-foot horns protruding from his boss's forehead at one moment when his boss angrily strikes up a conversation with him on a subject that turns out to be completely irrelevant.
- Dan Simmons' short story "My Private Memoirs of the Hoffer Stigmata Pandemic," in which a pandemic makes people's sins externally manifest in the form of various facial deformations, has a variant; fleshy blood-horns represent adultery, but they appear on the adulterer, not the cuckold.
- Mentioned in Letters to His Son; from letter CLXXXVI: "A prudent cuckold (and there are many such at Paris) pockets his horns when he cannot gore with them; and will not add to the triumph of his maker by only butting with them ineffectually."
Live Action TV
- In an episode of How I Met Your Mother that was on this afternoon this is referenced by The Captain when he and his wife are splitting up. He says "I wear the horns of the cuckold" in the belief that she is in love with someone else.
- The classic song from Los Embajadores Vallenatos, El Santo Cachon (which literally translates to "The Saint Horned")
- The other classic is "El Venao" (lit. "The deer").
- The "Hook 'Em Horns" gesture beloved among Texas Longhorns fans is a way of invoking the cornuto in Italy, and is a very grave insult in that country, to the point where brawls have broken out over it.
- This was a favorite symbolism of William Shakespeare:
- In The Merry Wives of Windsor, when Ford, disguised as Master Brook, encourages Falstaff to go after his wife, Falstaff boasts that he will put the cuckold's horns on Ford and later mockingly describes him as a "peaking cornuto." Ford vows revenge on him: "If I have horns to make one mad, let the proverb go with me—I'll be horn mad." The wives con Falstaff into meeting them in Windsor Forest disguised as Herne the Hunter, the Horned Humanoid of myth. When Falstaff has been properly humiliated in his horned disguise, Ford points to the horns and tells him, "Now, sir, who's a cuckold now?"
- In Much Ado About Nothing, horns pointedly symbolize what Benedick fears about being a married man. Beatrice also refers to the Devil as "like an old cuckold, with horns on his head."
- In Troilus and Cressida, Troilus jokes in the opening scene that Menelaus (whose wife is living with Paris) has only wounded Paris with his horns, and Thersites later cheers on the duel between Menelaus and his "cuckold-maker" as a fight between a bull and a dog.
- Used in a few Tennessee Williams plays:
- In The Rose Tattoo, after two gossips disclose to Serafina that her late husband had an affair with another women, she angrily and repeatedly denies it, saying that her husband would not have put "the nanny-goat's horns" on her head. There is also an actual goat that is troubling her. (Oddly enough, the Italian words for this are not used.)
- In Camino Real, Casanova has become a Ladykiller in Love, having fallen for Marguerite from La Dame aux Camelias and is crowned "King of the Cuckolds" during the festival with a Crown of Horns. He weeps and shouts "Cornudo!" over and over.
- All the sheep in Catherine have ram horns. Subverted in that not EVERYONE experiencing the nightmares is actually cheating on someone else.
- On The Simpsons, cuckold horns are handed out at a performance of Shakespeare in the Park. When a man puts them on and his date starts kissing the man next to her, he says "It works!"
- When VW launched the sunroof option for the Beetle in Brazil it sold well initially until a joke spread that it was to make room for the driver's horns. Sales tanked, the option was withdrawn and some owners even demanded the sunroof be filled in. Some years later, the Brazilian Ford Maverick's emblems had to be modified to remove the horned cow head of the US model.
- French marquess Louis Henri de Pardaillan de Gondrin "decorated" his coach with huge horns and antlers, furious that his wife had become Louis XIV's mistress.