The Word-Hoard: Shagreen




1. An untanned leather covered with small round granulations and usually dyed green.

2. The rough skin of various sharks and rays when covered with small, close-set tubercles.


“Shagreen” is another cool word that I first encountered through Howard’s¬†Conan stories. The material was originally made from horse skin, but eventually came to be crafted from sharks and rays. The rough quality of shagreen makes it ideal for weapons, such a sword hilts, where slipperiness can be a major liability. The ability of the skin to absorb dyes has also made it historically popular for items such as shoes, bookbinding leather, and luggage, though in Japan it was popular to leave white skin uncolored and pure.

The word itself is derived from the French¬†chagrin, meaning literally “rough skin.”

In our example for today, I believe “shagreen” is technically acting as a noun adjunct, but I’ve also seen some dictionaries give it a separate adjectival entry.

As the first tinge of dawn reddened the sea, a small boat with a solitary occupant approached the cliffs. The man in the boat was a picturesque figure. A crimson scarf was knotted about his head; his wide silk breeches, of flaming hue, were upheld by a broad sash which likewise supported a scimitar in a shagreen scabbard. His gilt-worked leather boots suggested the horseman rather than the seaman, but he handled his boat with skill. Through his widely open white silk shirt showed his broad muscular breast, burned brown by the sun.

– Robert E. Howard, “The Devil in Iron” (1934)



    • Glad to be able to illuminate!

      I think a lot of difficult words can be basically understood from context. It’s a pain to interrupt the flow of your reading and look them up, but sometimes I think it’s nice to really nail one down.

Leave a Reply