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October 31, 2017

It being Hallowe’en, I felt like reading something childish and spooky, so I picked up my old copy of Susan Cooper’s scary fantasy, The Dark is Rising – a book I haven’t looked at for several decades. I was interested to note that early on in the story Will Stanton, the hero, says “Hark at the rooks! Something must have disturbed them.”

Hark at… You don’t hear that much any more. The Dark is Rising was written in 1973, but even then I think hark would have had an archaic air. From my childhood I remember the word was mostly used by older adults, in a humorous way, when a child said something cheeky or funny or precocious: “Ooh, hark at him!” (This usage was referenced in the 1969 sketch show starring Ronnie Barker, Hark at Barker.)

Now of course the word is practically dead, only living on in old rhymes and hymns like Hark the Herald Angels Sing, or Hark, Hark, the Dogs do Bark.

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  1. Simon Carter permalink

    I remember older people would also say “you can hark”.
    It’s still used in it’s other meaning,to hark back, which apparently comes from hunting dogs doubling back after losing the scent.
    There is also the tune Tom Hark which is one of those most people will know without being able to name.

  2. Mark Brafield permalink

    The Dark is Rising is excellent, although my favourite was Over Sea, Under Stone. I can’t say that I know anyone who uses ‘hark’ in their everyday language, but I do have a friend who sometimes uses ‘behold’ when he is looking at something in a particularly reverent or awestruck way.

    • Oh, hello Mark! Nice to hear from you. I think I am going to start saying both ‘Behold’ and ‘Hark’.

  3. Simon Carter permalink

    A few years ago I tried to reintroduce Bounder into conversation but Frank Richards doesn’t carry much cachet any more. Still think it’s a good word though.

  4. Oh, Bounder, yes! Don’t hear that any more. Those Greyfriars stories were very interesting social documents. Herbert Vernon-Smith was as wealthy as Lord Mauleverer, but because his family were nouveau riche he smoked, gambled and kept low company and was, in short, a Bounder; unlike the suave and beautifully mannered Mauly.

  5. Simon Carter permalink

    There was also an American called Fisher T. Fish who was always trying to make money and spoke entirely in cliches but presumably when the stories were first published almost no one in Britain had heard an American accent.

    • Oh, yes, I remember Fisher T Fish! Have you read George Orwell’s essay on the Greyfriars stories – ‘Boys’ Weeklies’? Well worth reading if you haven’t.

  6. Simon Carter permalink

    Yes; it’s very good. Particularly as it was written when pop culture wasn’t commonly written about. Orwell was so readable on so many subjects.

  7. Simon Carter permalink

    Looking down the list of Greyfrars pupils shows they were a cosmopolitan bunch including an Australian, a New Zealander and Wun Lung from China who reportedly smoked opium which seems quite transgressive for the time.

  8. There was a South African too (can’t remember his name), and also Hurree Jamset Ram Singh, the Nabob of Bhanipur.

  9. Simon Carter permalink

    Piet Delarey was the South African. There was also the wonderfully named Napoleon DuPont from, not surprisingly, France.

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