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Friday, August 27, 2010

Hurtling over hurdles

I just read a posting for a job which required candidates who could "find creative solutions to hurtles that arise". What they meant was "hurdles". These two words are pronounced the same in North American English.

"Hurtle" is a verb meaning "move wildly at a dangerous speed". A car can hurtle down a street. Something can hurtle through the air.

"Hurdle" is first of all a noun, one of those fence-like objects that runners leap over. The word is also used figuratively, as in the sentence in question.

Originally hurdles were portable rectangular frames of woven wicker, used on farms as temporary gates or walls of sheep pens. As is typical with English nouns, a verb developed out of this meaning "jump over a hurdle".

Perhaps a way to remember that hurtle is spelled with a t is that if your car is hurtling down the street you are likely to get hurt.

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About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.