Word of the Week! Harum-Scarum

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”

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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!!!

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