Tag Archives: hoard


Yes, I like accumulating things – judiciously, not wantonly – and I am disinclined to part with my treasures. I have an indeterminate number of books, but anyway more than there is room for, especially merged with my wife’s equally prodigious and constantly growing collecting; I have nearly a thousand CDs and no more room for new ones, so now I buy on iTunes; I have about a dozen cameras, about as many lenses for the ones that can take different lenses, and thousands upon thousands of photos stored up from them; I still have every email of any significance at all from the past sesquidecade; my section of the bedroom closet is packed like a Tokyo subway, but two thirds of them haven’t been worn this year or last; I have a dozen or so watches and two dozen or so ties; I have every issue of the Literary Review of Canada that I’ve ever worked on (nearly 20 years’ worth), and almost every issue of The Walrus since its first; I have a couple dozen bottles of liquor, but at least I finish those… gradually…

Aina thinks I may be a hoarder. But she’s the one whose clothes drawers erupt black fabric when she opens them, and she’s the one with more than a hundred books piled against the wall by her side of the bed. So.

I am not a true hoarder. A true hoarder is like this bloke I read about today, who incessantly accumulates old doors and window frames in his yard (click on the link just to see the pictures). It’s like this woman who died after a pile of her accumulated stuff collapsed on her. It’s like this person who had more than five dozen cats in a one-bedroom apartment.

Wait! Can you hoard cats? I know you can’t herd them. But are “crazy cat people” hoarders? Hoarding is for treasures, but inanimate ones, no? If I see a platoon of puddy tats, I’m more likely to think it’s a horde than a hoard.

Horde is not related to hoard, by the way. Horde comes ultimately from a Turkic word for ‘camp’. Hoard is a good old Germanic word that since the beginning of English (when it was hord) has been a noun for a collection of valuables laid away for future reference, and thence a verb for the act of laying them away. This word has been in the collection as long as there has been a collection.

English has increased its collection quite substantially since then, of course. We still have many of the oldest words, some of them at the bottoms of piles, some much worn from regular use, some brightened or bent over time – how does a gathering of treasures harden so it is heard as a bad thing, anyway? because it sounds like a hoary horror? – but we have accumulated an unmanageable treasury from our millennium and more of excursions and inventions. The English vocabulary is like Smaug’s gold-hoard (and the mot juste that’s on the tip of your tongue is its Arkenstone of the moment).

Is a word-hoard a bad thing? Robert Macfarlane seems not to think so; he glories in adding local landscape terms to his display cabinet. I don’t think so either, as my blog’s ton of word tastings (if they’re a pound each) attests. English may have an utter superfluity of words, but somehow we can always make use of one more to add just the right bit of flavour that was missing before. Unlike Scotch or Bordeaux, additions to your vocabulary are usually free and don’t occupy a lot of space.

I suppose excess words could collapse on you if you’re not careful with them. But really, my myriad of words is to me not so much a yard of dirty doors and windows (though words are, in their ways, doors and windows to the world) as a mewing mass of moggies waiting to be petted, to taste you with their sandpaper tongues, and to dig their tiny claws into you and your friends.

hoard, horde, whored

They’re taking down the hoarding in front of the Sony Centre, across the street from where I live. That’s nice – for so long it felt as though they were hoarding it to themselves. Soon, renovations done, they will open their hoard to the hordes who will come to see acts from the hortatory to the hoary. Some may accuse the artists who play such a cavernous space of having whored themselves, sacrificing art for cash. But who’re they to criticize who work uninspiring day jobs just to earn the pay to see someone else’s output? Well, let them make themselves hoarse preaching “with a little hoard of maxims,” as Tennyson put it in “Locksley Hall”; their end would be the state Tennyson described in “Don Juan”: “Society is now one polish’d horde, Formed of two mighty tribes, the Bores and Bored.”

Hoard, horde, whored… These words are tolerable in British accents that drop the /r/, starting with a light breath and then holding on a lax mid-back rounded vowel until the final voiced stop. But in North American English generally, they come too close to what is sometimes called “throat hawking,” that thing one does to produce a “loogie.” The tongue is raised at the back and curled up at the front, and the /d/ is the saving grace, keeping it from burying in the back.

But that pulling back and gathering in, that curling and bunching, at least may seem to have some iconicity with respect to the sense of the words: the retentiveness of hoard, the clannishness of horde, the dim bedchambers and clandestine involvements of whored. There’s no particular reason to think the words came about because of this, but it may or may not have helped their persistence. In any event, their sources are separate. Hoard is from a Teutonic word for “treasure”; horde is from a Turki word, orda, meaning “camp”, which also gave us Urdu, the name of a language; whored is from whore, of course, which in turn came from an old Germanic word for “adultery” – and whore is a word that never had a pronounced /w/ (the w was added to the spelling rather late) and that is also often pronounced with the vowel as /u/ or /U/, and a word that has a common root, back in Proto-Indo-European, with charity, which really is ironic, isn’t it?

I should add, too, that hoarding is from another word hoard that came about as a reanalysis of hurdis (taking it for a plural), which in turn comes from Latin and French words for “palisade”. As for hoary, it comes from hoar (as in hoar frost), which refers to grey hair but comes from a Germanic root meaning “old” and “venerable”.

We find, indeed, that this simple sound string gives us quite a hoard of words – even, perhaps, metaphorically, a horde, except that the words do not form a clan per se, not being related. But perhaps a horde need not be seen as related; after all, horde shows up most often with media (as in the media horde or a horde of media) – the rough and bunchy sound, redolent of hairy sorts on horses screaming themselves hoarse, seems apt for the muddled huddle of paparazzi and assorted reporters. But it also shows up with Golden – the Golden Horde were central Asian conquerors of the 1200s – and thus we have a link with hoard, as gold and (more especially) cash are the two things most often spoken of with hoard. And no doubt we have heard on occasion of the sterotype of a “whore with a heart of gold” – but that’s not as common a usage, and the past tense verb, whored, is much less common and does not have any usual golden collocation.

But now I feel that I have reached my maximum, and I hope that you are not of the tribe of the bored.

Thanks to Gabriel Cooper for suggesting hoard, horde, and whored.