Re: Origin of the word "Hearse"

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Posted by santhosh ( on November 19, 2002 at 15:38:38:

In Reply to: Origin of the word "Hearse" posted by Mark V. on September 22, 2000 at 12:01:43:

: I was checking our site tracker and someone used "why is a hearse called a hearse" as a search parameter to find our site. This got me thinking. Acording to the Limited Encyclopedia of Grave Terminology:

: hearse
: A word which has had many mortuarial meanings. One could, for example, speak of the hearse carrying the hearse-enshrouded hearse in its hearse while mourners murmured hearses at its passage on its way to the hearse. (Translation: The bier carries the funeral pall-enshrouded body in its coffin while mourners murmur obsequies at its passage on its way to the grave.) The word derives from the Old French word for harrow, a device dragged over plowed fields to break up clods. Now it is used to signify the enlongated vehicle used to carry clods on their final journey.

: Acording to Take Our Word For It:

: Hearse was originally spelled herse, coming to English from French herse. It entered English in the late 13th century. It is thought to come, as you suggest, from Latin hirpex "large rake used as a harrow". A harrow is a sort of plough which is used, after the land has been furrowed, in order to break up clods, remove weeds, etc. It is made of a frame of timber into which teeth or tines are set. Apparently, the original hearses (see below) resembled the "harrow" herse, hence the name.

: Hearse, in whatever form, has not always referred to the funeral car or coach that we think of today. It actually referred, in its earliest days in English, to a triangular frame designed to hold candles for use during Holy Week in the Catholic Church. That usage dates back to 1287, at least in the written record, and it is that shape which apparently resembled agricultural herses. Not long thereafter, that triangular frame became something quite elaborate, such that it could carry many candles and other decorations over the coffins of the wealthy and/or distinguished deceased. It went by other names, too, such as castrum doloris, chapelle ardente, or catafalco. In the mid-16th century hearse came to refer to permanent iron (or other metal) framework placed over a tomb to hold decorations and candles. When the version that was also known as the castrum doloris became unfashionable, a different sort of hearse was used for noble funerals: it was formed in an a-frame shape and made of wood, and it was often decorated with banners and heraldic devices, along with candles, and mourners often pinned poems, written to the deceased, to it.

: Today’s usage, referring to the vehicle in which the coffin is carried, dates from the mid-17th century. The meaning of "framework around a coffin" was extended to "vehicle enclosing a coffin for transport".

: The word rehearse is distantly related to hearse, for rehearse etymologically means "re-harrow", or, metaphorically, to "go over again". It originally meant "to repeat" (mid-14th century), but also referred to recitation (as in church services) and the relating of a story. It was not until the late 16th century that the word came to refer to practicing a play, scene or part in private before a public appearance. Shakespeare used it in that sense in his A Midsummer Night’s Dream of 1590: "Sit downe..and rehearse your parts."

: Just thought you may want to know.

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