The expression “weltering in gore” has been around at least since 1593 when Christopher Marlowe used it in Edward II:
Upon my weapons point here shouldst thou fall,
And welter in thy goare
I just noticed it in an Amelia Peabody mystery by Elizabeth Peters. In The Curse of the Pharaohs (1981), Amelia is reluctant for her husband to stand guard over a tomb. He asks if she’s afraid she’ll find him in the morning “weltering in his own gore.” The novel’s setting is the nineteenth century, so the use of the phrase is right on target. It was quite popular with journalists of the 1800s:
There lay the criminal, weltering in his gore, on the grass in the yard. –newspaper account of the execution of William Cocroft, Salt Lake City, 1861
Alonzo Bee, a son of the farmer hastened to the Doyle residence, where upon entering, the horrible sight of three human beings weltering in their own gore met his gaze. –account of a murder, 1883
An 1808 reading textbook. (then in its 9th edition). designed for the use of schools includes this description of a man who survived a murderous attack with the help of his faithful dog. The man was found
wounded, scalped, weltering in his own gore, and faint with the loss of blood.
The dog was credited with saving its master’s life by licking the wound.
Both weltering and gore have a place in this 1922 National Geographic story about a drawing that depicts the dedication of a temple to Huitzilipochtli:
To this is attached, on the right, the figure of a priest who has just sacrificed a human victim, the latter pictured as dying on the ground,weltering in his own blood. To the left is the great temple of the War God, the stairway being shown as plentifully besprinkled with the gore of the hecatomb of victims.
In current usage weltering in gore isn’t entirely gone. Here’s an example from the movie review of a documentary about an Australian criminal:
[Chopper is] alternately shocking and hilarious, as Chopper launches a vicious attack on a fellow inmate and then, as his victim is literally weltering in his gore, takes pity on him and offers him a cigarette. –DVD Times.
Too bad the writer thought it necessary to insert the “literally.” Whether classed as a cliché or not, the phrase is wonderfully expressive on its own.
The word gore has several meanings.
As a noun gore can mean “clotted blood,” as in the weltering expression. It can also mean “a triangular piece of ground.” The surname Gore comes from this land sense. And gore can mean a “triangular piece of cloth” used in sewing to make a “gored skirt” or to enlarge an article of clothing.
As a verb gore means “to pierce or stab.” It is usually used to describe the action of a horned animal. Ex. The toreador was gored by the bull.
Both the verb and the noun with triangular connotations derive from an OE word for spear: gar. The point of the Anglo-Saxon gar was triangular in shape.
The origin of the noun in the sense of “clotted blood” is OE gor, “dirt, dung, shit.” The sense “clotted blood” had developed by the1560s.
Like gore, welter has more than one meaning, both as noun and verb.
As a verb, welter means “to roll or twist the body.” It can also be used to describe the rolling, writhing motion of inanimate objects. Ex. The ship weltered in the waves. As a noun, welter can mean “a confused mass.” Ex. a welter of contradictions, a welter of fans, a welter of evidence, a welter of misunderstandings.