or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Over the Coals

I ordinarily do not consider blog comments to be a hunting ground for mistakes and incorrect assertions, but this is just so egregious that I can't leave it be.

Parterre Box is an opera blog written and read by ferociously devoted and opinionated opera fans. You could learn a lot about the art form just by reading the comments. However, someone in a recent discussion made the following observation:

“Rehearse.” “Re-hear.” The opportunity for the director to evaluate the work the performer has been doing between rehearsals.

Anybody who knows anything about etymology will look at that and, even if they don't know the specific root in question, immediately guess (correctly) that that is complete nonsense. "Rehearse" obviously didn't come from "hear": the vowel sound is wrong, the putative suffix isn't a suffix at all, it's just ridiculous.

If you know any German, you will have noticed that their verb "hören", "to hear", is close in sound to our "hear", and must be either the source or the cousin of it, and that is just how it is. The two words probably come from the Indo-European root "keu-", "to perceive", which also, interestingly, gave us "show" (which meant "to look at" before it came to mean its current opposite, "to hold up for others to look at").

"Rehearse", on the other hand, is "re-", "again", plus "-hearse", and yes, that is the "hearse" that carries a coffin. But more on that in a minute, because it's complicated. "Rehearse" comes from Old French "rehercier", "to repeat", literally "to rake over", because "hercier" meant "to rake", from "herce", "a rake, a harrow". This referred to a metal framework hung over a coffin which held the candles which were used in the funeral service, which presumably resembled a harrow, a farm implement used for tearing up soil: a long heavy metal frame with sharp teeth. The Latin word for it, "hercia", apparently came from an even older word, "hirpus", meaning "wolf", for its teeth. The original candleholder meaning of "hearse" dates from the late thirteenth century: by the mid-seventeeth century, the word had come to mean the vehicle that takes the casket to the burial ground.


Post a Comment

<< Home