Etymology of the Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

The Etymology of the Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

The confusing history behind the name of the wirehaired pointing griffon.

The word griffon (or griffin) can be traced back to the Greek and Latin roots meaning “hook” or “claw” or even “hawk” ( i.e., a bird with claws). Long ago, it was the name of a mythical beast with the head of an eagle and the body of a lion—with clawed feet, of course.

Eventually the word “griffon” became associated with many of the rough-coated dog breeds found throughout Europe. That is why the word “pointing” is in the name of the Korthals griffon. It is there to indicate that, unlike the Blue Gascony griffon, a type of running hound, or the Belgian griffon, a companion breed, the wirehaired pointing griffon is a pointing breed. The name also refers to the wire-haired coat. This is to differentiate it from other griffons with non-wiry coats, such as the French woolly-haired pointing griffon developed by Emmanuel Boulet and the Brabançon griffon that has a smooth coat.

So, the wirehaired pointing griffon is the name of a pointing breed with a wire-haired coat that is part of the overall family of griffon-type dogs. Simple enough, right? Not quite. We need to keep in mind that the term “wirehaired pointing griffon” only came into widespread use after the turn of the 20th century. Depending on the source, rough-haired dogs were called everything from Polish and Hungarian water dogs, to pudels, budels and Hessian rough-beards. In fact when the first wirehaired pointing griffon was imported into the U.S. in 1887, it was listed as a “Russian Setter.”

Even Eduard Karel Korthals, the founder of the breed, did not use the name griffon until the 1880s. He originally called his dogs smousbarts  and when he moved to Germany he used the German term Drahthaarige Vorstehhunde, which means wire-haired pointing dogs. Eventually, he and members of the newly formed international breed club settled on the term “griffon.”

Elsewhere in Europe, other breeds of pointing dogs were developed from the same griffon-type ancestors. The spinone, Cesky Fousek, Slovak pointer, wirehaired vizsla, Stichelhaar, German wirehaired pointer and pudelpointer are all “griffons” in the broadest sense of the word. And since they all point and have wire-haired coats, are “wire-haired pointing griffons.”

“It was therefore logical, and even necessary, to put an end to the confusion that resulted from the fact that all griffons with a wire coat of various kinds had the same name expressed in different ways in French or German. By adding the word “Korthals” to the name of the breed, French griffon supporters proclaimed themselves the heirs and upholders of the works of the great breeder.” – Jean Castaing, Les Chiens d’Arret

So, today in France and Québec, breeders and owners call the breed Griffon Korthals. In conversation they shorten it to just “Korthals.” But the situation in other countries is not as cut-and-dry. The FCI website shows that the international organization can’t quite figure out where to put the word “Korthals” in the English translation of the name. On the website’s nomenclature page, Korthals is in the middle of the name: French Wire-Haired Korthals Pointing Griffon. But in the English translation of the standard published by the Fédération cynologique internationale (FCI), Korthals is at the end: wirehaired pointing griffon Korthals.

Americans solve the problem by simply dropping the word Korthals from the name. They refer to the breed as the wirehaired pointing griffon, and shorten it to “griff” in conversation.

In the U.K., it is the word “wirehaired” that is dropped. British breeders and owners call their dogs Korthals griffons. And in the German standard, the word griffon is dropped! The name on the German translation of the FCI standard is Französischer Rauhhaariger Korthals Vorstehhund (French rough-haired Korthals pointing dog)—yet the name of the German club representing the breed is Griffon-Club. Go figure!

The bottom line is that when it comes to confusing breed names, the wirehaired pointing griffon (Korthals) may be top dog, but that does not mean that a good griff cannot be an outstanding hunting dog; many of them are, no matter what they are called.

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Last modified: June 16, 2020

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