Sunday, December 5, 2010


Rehearsal \ri-HUR-suhl\ , noun;
1. A session of exercise, drill, or practice, usually private, in preparation for a public performance, ceremony, etc.
2. The act of rehearsing
3. A repeating or relating

I recently received an invitation to a rehearsal dinner for an upcoming wedding and it reminded me of how strangely this word is spelled and made me curious as to its etymology.

So, according to
Rehearsal dates to the late 14th century and meant "restatement." It is a combination of rehearse and the suffix -al, which conveys a sense of relation. Our current idea of rehearsal as a preparation for a theatrical or musical performance dates to the 1570's and a wedding rehearsal dinner is attested by 1953.

Rehearse dates to the 1300's meaning "to give an account of." It comes from Anglo-French rehearser which is derived from Old French rehercier ("to go over again, repeat" or literally "to rake over again"). Rehercier is a combination of re- ("again") + hercier ("to rake, harrow").

Hercier is also a forebear to hearse, which dates to the late 13th century in Anglo-Latin meaning "flat framework for candles, hung over a coffin." If hercier means "to rake, harrow", then herce means "a long rake, harrow," which comes from Middle Latin hercia. Hercia comes from Latin hirpicem (nominative is hirpex) meaning "harrow," which derives from Oscan hirpus ("wolf"). The transformation from "wolf" to "harrow" is supposedly an allusion to the animal's teeth. Hirpus may also be related to Latin hirsutus ("shaggy, bristly"). So how does this all relate back to hearse? I has to do with using a rake to break up the soil, which you have to do to bury someone, and then extended to temporary frameworks built over the deceased, then to "vehicle for carrying a body," which dates to the 1640's.

You might also like: Inky Fool: Re-Hearsing

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