Sunday, February 11, 2007

Going to the Hounds

Q.    Why do they use the word hound to describe someone who collects rocks -- a rockhound?          Tom/Cincinnati, Ohio

A.    The word hound comes from an old Teutonic word meaning a dog. The Oxford English Dictionary suggests that ultimately it may come from a verb meaning to seize, thus making the noun mean “the creature that seizes.”

As time went on, different strains were promoted to hunt specific animals. Thus, we have the buckhound, deerhound, foxhound, and staghound. The origin of greyhound is uncertain, although the OED insists that it has no connection to the color. The bloodhound doesn’t just track blood, of course; scent hound might be more accurate.

As applied to humans, hound signifies someone enthusiastic about a pursuit, usually an avid amateur or hobbyist. It is an analogy based on the eagerness and relentless pursuit exhibited by all those working dogs.

You learn what the enthusiast’s interest is by focusing on the first element in the word, the one that precedes -hound. Common compounds are rock hound, news hound, food hound, and publicity hound. In 1926, American Speech magazine applied the term comma hound to composition teachers. And all of my readers are word hounds.

SIDEBAR: Listen to selections from The Hound, WFMU

SIDEBAR: The Hound of the Baskervilles

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