I had a crossword clue:

They're neat!

The answer was "Oxen"

I cannot see the link.

Source: The Scotsman Newspaper Cryptic Crossword 02/07/22

  • $\begingroup$ The Chambers Dictionary is quite helpful. Traditionally any word used in a cryptic crossword should be listed in Chambers and, indeed, “neat” has a relevant definition there (archaic or dialect -- seems to be of Scots origin so makes sense to see this clue in The Scotsman). $\endgroup$
    – Nate
    Commented Jul 5, 2022 at 19:42

3 Answers 3


This is a cryptic definition clue:

Neat as a noun is another word for Oxen (see definition 2).

So the answer is Oxen as, they are literally neat!

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ At least in American English, I think this would be a quite difficult clue. OED describes the definition as "archaic and regional", but doesn't mention which region(s). Would this be considered equally tricky/obscure/difficult in Scotland? $\endgroup$
    – chepner
    Commented Jul 5, 2022 at 14:07
  • $\begingroup$ @chepner would agree, but would need a Scottish linguist to confirm! It is definitely an archaic British word, wiktionary has listed Shakespeare using it for example - but as a Brit can’t say I’ve ever heard it used before $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 5, 2022 at 14:23
  • $\begingroup$ @chepner agreed regarding AmEn, I've also been doing WSJ/NYT crosswords for years and years and not once recall coming across this term. (Just meaning, it's certainly a very hard clue)...Though I did also just learn that cows are neat too! $\endgroup$
    – BruceWayne
    Commented Jul 5, 2022 at 14:39

It is similar as a the term for a group of crows being a 'murder'. But then for Oxen.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It's not a term of venery like "murder". The term of venery would be "drove", as in "a drove of neat" (ref 1883). $\endgroup$
    – Laurel
    Commented Jul 5, 2022 at 11:28
  • $\begingroup$ I think "collectively" in that etymology just refers to the term not being restricted to any particular species. $\endgroup$
    – chepner
    Commented Jul 5, 2022 at 14:08

I would guess this is one of the word with a nordic background. "Naut" (pronounced more like "nout") is a slightly arcaic word for cows and/or oxen in Norwegian.

  • $\begingroup$ This might be related to the etymology of the word, but probably not what the crossword author intended. (I didn't downvote; I think your answer is reasonable, but probably incorrect.) $\endgroup$
    – Eilon
    Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 22:56

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