Joseph Gallagher

October 18, 1991|By Joseph Gallagher

All America is divided into those who say HARass, those who say harASS, and those who say both. My dictionaries allow either pronunciation of the verb, but permit only HARasser and HARassment. These words come from the French verb harasser, meaning to set a dog on someone or something. To incite the dog, the French say ''Hare!'' as we say ''Sic 'em!'' ''Sic'' (past tense: sicced) is from ''seek,'' and can also be spelled ''sick.''

Some synonyms for harass also pertain to animals, e.g., ''hound'' and ''badger.'' The latter may get its name from the white mark (badge) on its forehead. ''Pester'' is not from pest, but is connected with pasture, or tying an animal up. To ''annoy'' is to act in hatred (Latin: in odio). To ''harry'' comes not from harass, but from a word for war. Harry Truman knew how to harry his opponents, but his ''Harry'' comes from Henry/Henri, which come from the German heim/reich (Heinrich): house ruler.

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