Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun One who rides the near horse of the leaders to guide the horses drawing a coach.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun A post-boy; one who rides a post-horse; a guide or forerunner.
  • noun One who rides the near horse of the leaders when four or more horses are used in a carriage or post-chaise, or who rides the near horse when one pair only is used and there is no driver on the box.
  • noun Same as postilion-basque.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • noun One who rides and guides the first pair of horses of a coach or post chaise; also, one who rides one of the horses when one pair only is used.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun A rider mounted on the near, leading horse pulling a carriage who guides the team.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • noun someone who rides the near horse of a pair in order to guide the horses pulling a carriage (especially a carriage without a coachman)

Etymologies

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[French postillon, from Italian postiglione, from posta, mail, from Old Italian, mail station; see post.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Middle French postillon, and its likely source, Italian postiglione ("guide for driver of post-coach"), from posta ("post").

Examples

  • The postilion was a venerable 'boy' of sixty -- a martyr to rheumatic gout, the result of excessive exposure in youth, counteracted by strong liquors -- who had stood at inn-doors doing nothing for the whole five-and-twenty years that had elapsed since he had no longer been required to ride professionally, as if expecting the old times to come back again.

    Tess of the d'Urbervilles

  • The postilion was a venerable "boy" of sixty -- a martyr to rheumatic gout, the result of excessive exposure in youth, counter-acted by strong liquors -- who had stood at inn-doors doing nothing for the whole five-and-twenty years that had elapsed since he had no longer been required to ride professionally, as if expecting the old times to come back again.

    Tess of the d'Urbervilles

  • With an impatient murmur, the stranger called the postilion and sent him to the

    Wife in Name Only

  • Our postilion was a silly fellow, who could not understand whether his money was correct.

    Northern Travel Summer and Winter Pictures of Sweden, Denmark and Lapland

  • As it grew lighter, we were surprised to find that our postilion was a girl.

    Northern Travel Summer and Winter Pictures of Sweden, Denmark and Lapland

  • Our postilion was a thorough master of his calling, and his spurs and whip seemed to know no cessation from action.

    A Bibliographical, Antiquarian and Picturesque Tour in France and Germany, Volume One

  • What prisoners call a "postilion" is a pallet of bread artistically moulded, which is sent into Ireland, that is to say, over the roofs of a prison, from one courtyard to another.

    Les Miserables, Volume IV, Saint Denis

  • What is certain is, that on the following morning, a "postilion" was flung from the Charlemagne yard into the Lions 'Ditch, over the five-story building which separated the two court-yards.

    Les Miserables, Volume IV, Saint Denis

  • What prisoners call a "postilion" is a pallet of bread artistically moulded, which is sent into Ireland, that is to say, over the roofs of a prison, from one courtyard to another.

    Les Misérables

  • What is certain is, that on the following morning, a "postilion" was flung from the Charlemagne yard into the Lions 'Ditch, over the five-story building which separated the two court-yards.

    Les Misérables

Comments

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  • also spelled as 'postillion'. Best known for its apocryphal inclusion in 19th century foreign language primers, as part of the immortal phrase: "Stop the coach, the postillion has been struck by lightning!" I know of several people who, like myself, heard this phrase growing up, but have never been able to track it down in print.

    January 29, 2007