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Chris -- 2018-04-11

#1 2012-09-10 18:23:35

From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2601

hurtle/hurdle << hurl

Timothy Caulfield starts a chapter of his new book, The Cure for Everything!, with this list of synonyms:

Puke, Upchuck. Vomit. Throw up. Hurl. The liquid scream. Painting the pavement. Emesis. And the more delicate, though descriptively incomplete, unsettled stomach.

His list is a partial one, of course. We could add more synonyms: barf, disgorge, heave, retch, spew. Several circumlocutions for the bodily function paint a more vivid picture: praying to the porcelain god, tossing one’s cookies, calling Ralph on the big white phone.

In this forum we have looked at the transformations of some of these synonyms (puke ugly for pug ugly, upchunk for upchuck, upsettled for unsettled, heap for heave, wretch for retch). When I saw Caulfield’s list, I started to wonder if his “hurl” might also claim a spot in this forum. The word that Americans co-opted in the 1990s for this less-than-noble role has a long history of eggcornical confusions. “Hurl” started out in English as Teutonic borrow for throw/toss/thrust. From these simple beginnings, the word grew like a snowball, picking up new meanings as it rolled along. Some sound-related (and now-obsolete) senses of “hurl” may be onomatopoetic in origin. Confusion with an old word for “drag,” harl, added another bypassed meaning. The lost words “hurlwind” and “hurlpool” show an ancient confusion with “whirl.”

“Hurl” had largely shed these eggcorned meanings by the beginning of the twentieth century. Dropping them did not save “hurl” from confusion, however. Modern speakers of English often interchange “hurl,” “hurtle” (an iterative of “hurt”) and “hurdle” (from a word for a wickerwork).

For the purist, “hurl” has to do with projection by force, “hurtle” with the resulting collision. We hurl a rock and it hurtles against its target. The most common modern use of “hurtle,” however, makes it a synonym for moving with speed (“hurtle down the highway”), and in this usage the distinction between “hurl” and “hurtle” is less clear—we haste to hurl ourselves from one place to another. “Hurdle,” abstracted from its sports context to refer to any leaping along, also comes into the mix. An earlier post on this forum noted the ease with which “hurtle” and “hurdle” can be switched.

With this hurl/hurtle/hurdle fuzzy spot in our heads, we might expect the recent semantic venture of “hurl” into the realm of stomach ejecta to drag along “hurtle” and “hurdle.” The case is hard to prove, though – “hurl” (=vomit) occurs on the web at a relatively low frequency, so permutations of it to “hurtle” and “hurdle” do not rise above random noise. I could only turn up one difficult-to-interpret example:

Phillipine blog: “No matter how hard I work, it will never be enough. No matter how hard I try, my position will never go up because of politics inside the network. I’m really having a hard time there. Such harsh environment makes me sick. Just seeing the gate makes me want to hurdle.”

Last edited by kem (2012-09-10 23:15:18)

Hatching new language, one eggcorn at a time.



#2 2012-09-10 18:43:59

From: Montreal
Registered: 2008-03-17
Posts: 1101

Re: hurtle/hurdle << hurl

Great reading. The one hit you found is a surprisingly apt confusion.

If you want to make a case for a real fuzzy spot, we might look for other nearby words that might be blended in. Hurry and hard come to mind. As in the wonderfully palpitating “Hurry hard … hard hard hard haaaard!” from curling.



#3 2012-09-10 18:52:30

David Bird
From: Montréal, QC
Registered: 2009-07-28
Posts: 1562

Re: hurtle/hurdle << hurl

Did you really think it was safe to hurrel down a mountain on a bike?

Meteors and asteroids cloud the sky now and hurrel down at them and beat them both senslessly.

It is better to be beaten reasonably.



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