July 8, 2024

A Friend of Joe's or a Friend of Joe?

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"Of" shows possession, so technically the apostrophe and S in "a friend of Joe's" contains a logical redundancy. But that doesn't mean it's wrong.

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Hark back, harken back, hearken back
Posted by June on July 14, 2024
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Most people use “hark back,” “hearken back” and “harken back” to mean “recall” or “refer back to” some previous event. But the original meaning of “hark,” “harken” and “hearken” was not to recall but to hear or to listen carefully. Think: “Hark! The herald angels sing.” In fact, you can still use them that way today: Hark my words. Hearken my words. Harken my words.

“Hark” is the youngest of the three, dating back to the 14th century, with “hearken” and “harken” going back another two centuries or so.

Sometime in the 1800s, people started adding “back” to “hark” for the purpose of giving it what was then a figurative meaning: to recall or refer back to. Soon, “hark back,” “hearken back” and “harken back” would become full-fledged phrasal verbs — word combinations that have a different meaning than the root verb they’re based on. For more examples of phrasal verbs, think about the difference between “give” and “give up”; “break” and “break in”; “cut” and “cut off.” In every case, the word combo means something different from the verb when it stands alone. That’s what makes them phrasal verbs.

So unlike “hark,” “hearken” and “harken,” which mean to listen or listen carefully, “hark back,” “hearken back” and “harken back” are phrasal verbs meaning “to go back to or recall to mind something in the past,” according to Merriam’s dictionary.

Merriam’s usage guide claims that, though “hark” is now rare in the meaning of to listen, “harken” and “hearken” are still used that way. Personally, outside of one old Christmas song, I’ve never heard any form of hark or hearken used to mean “listen.” But when I search a books database to compare “hearken” with “hearken back,” “harken with harken back,” and “hark” with “hark back,” I see that all three words often stand alone and “back”-less. They’re all correct, with or without “back.”

So which is the most widely accepted in edited published writing? It’s “hark back” — my friend’s preference. My preference, “hearken back,” which the dictionary prefers, comes in last place in terms of popularity, and it has for most of the last century. Here's more in my recent column.

June Casagrande is a writer and journalist whose weekly grammar/humor column, “A Word, Please,” appears in community newspapers in California, Florida, and Texas. more

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