I have had a rather rushed and chaotic week renovating a house we rent, just ahead of new tenants arriving. Thus, I’ve acted rather harum-scarum about this blog, and that gives me a good opportunity to share a favorite word often found in English Literature before 1900.
The OED Online shows a likely etymology as a rhyme made up of hare + scare. If you have walked up on a bunny and watched it flee wildly, going one direction, then another, you get a sense of the recklessness and panic of the resulting harum-scarum behavior. The term is not very old, and the oldest example (perhaps misheard by the writer) from the 17th Century is harum-starum!
Wild, rash, reckless, chaotic, running one way, then another! I frequently see it in Dickensian prose about a “harum-scarum fellow” one cannot trust to act calmly. Not long ago I chastised a friend about his undependable “harum-scarum friends,” knowing that a fellow English Major would get the reference.
This blog will continue all summer, so nominate a word by e-mailing me (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.
See all of our Words of the Week here.
Image from Nick Park’s excellent 2005 film The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, just because I could not resist.
3 thoughts on “Word of the Week! Harum-Scarum”
My age will tell you that I remember Harum-Scarum being an Elvis movie title. Though I think it was a bit of word play since his movies usually involved lots of women.
Joe- Thanks for the blog! Who knew harum-scarum was so old. A word that annoys me to no end and people use quite often is irregardless. Is it really a word? Isn’t it a double negative, ‘not not gardless? I know sometimes the dictionaries adopt words simply because they are used.
Joe, thank you for the great words & explanations you have published! They’ve added delightfully to my day, since I really don’t enjoy having to check Spider Bytes every day to see where I need to be next! They remind me of long ago, when I was trying to build a decent vocabulary to get through Miss Keller’s & Miss Lutz’s classes!!!
Comments are closed.