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A.Word.A.Day--hearken

Pronunciation RealAudio

hearken (HAHR-ken) verb intr., also harken or hark

1. To pay attention; listen.

2. To return to a previous subject (usually in the form of hearken back).

[From Middle English herknen, from Old English he(o)rcnian.]

"The reasons long given by the old guard for barring women -- that they will cause disorder and create competition among the men, that they play with a different character than men, that their pregnancies would disrupt scheduling -- seem laughably antiquated. Such notions conjure up images of women as temptresses and hearken to times when the sight of a cello between a woman's legs was considered unfeminine." Anthony Tommasini, The Vienna Philharmonic Returns, Virtually a Male Bastion, The New York Times, Mar 15, 1999.

Our seven-year-old daughter Ananya has developed an interest in etymology. Often she'll interrupt her play in the backyard and peek in my downstairs study to ask about whatever word comes to her mind. Some time back she barged in with, "So how did the word dog came about?" I explained to her that the word dog came from Middle English dogge which came from Old English docga. Satisfied, she went back to her play.

I had completely forgotten about it when a few days later I overheard her talking to her grandmother on the phone, "Amma, we got a dogga." I was puzzled and later asked why she said dogga instead of dog. She patiently explained, "You know, Amma is old. That's why I used Old English with her."

Well, Grandma is old, but not that old. The Old English period is generally thought to have begun with the arrival of certain Germanic tribes (Angles, Saxons, and Jutes) in Britain in the fifth century.

Scholars have divided the history of the English language into three periods: Old English (from the middle of the 5th to the beginning of the 12th century), Middle English (12th century through the 15th), and Modern English (16th century onwards).

This week we feature a few words that have their origins in Old English, also known as Anglo-Saxon. These words are old but not ready for retirement yet -- put them to work.

-Anu Garg

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