Thursday, September 08, 2011

Harrowing Experience

Jim from Charlevoix asked about the origin of the cliché, a harrowing experience.

The harrow was an early agricultural tool designed to break up clods of earth, turn the soil over, extirpate roots and weeds, and generally prepare the ground for planting. It was a heavy wooden or metal frame set with iron teeth and dragged by an ox or work horse—later, by a tractor.

By extension, a harrowing experience was one that caused great distress and emotional laceration, something that tore you up emotionally.

Harrow was also used as the name of a hinge, as a cricket term, as a synonym for castration, as the name of a defensive gate, as a gold-mining separation device, and as a diagonal arrangement of soldiers or birds in flight.

SIDEBAR: The Harrowing of Hell

Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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