Q&A: Hoard vs horde

Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week, we have no hoard feelings…

Q: Hi AWC, can we please discuss the difference between ‘horde’ and ‘hoard’?

A: Have you been stockpiling toilet paper in your basement again?

Q: No! Ahem… Just pasta, rice and chapsticks.

A: Chapsticks?

Q: Yes, I don’t want to get my apocalypse dry.

A: Groan.

Q: But seriously, do I “hoard” these items or “horde” them?

A: “Hoard” is what you’re looking for – a noun that turned up in the 13th century, meaning “a treasure, valuable stock or store; an accumulation of something for preservation or future use.” Originally spelt “hord” and from an Old Norse word that literally meant “hidden treasure”.

Q: And what about the verb?

A: It arrived about the same time – “to collect, and store; amass and deposit for preservation or future use.”

Q: Makes sense. So you’re saying that if I hoard enough tins of peaches then I’ll have myself a hoard of peaches?

A: Correct. It’s both the accumulation of something for future use AND the resulting accumulation.

Q: What about tins of apricots?

A: Yep. The same.

Q: And tins of pears?

A: Any fruit! Anything! Gold. Clothing. Money. Newspapers. If you stockpile it, then you hoard it.

Q: My uncle Travis had a hoard of pears but his neighbours forced him to give them up. He said it was due to pear pressure.

A: Oh dear. 

Q: So what does “horde” mean then?

A: Horde is newer into English (16th century), arriving via Polish and Turkish “ordu” – meaning a camp of nomadic warriors. A “horde” is described by Macquarie Dictionary as “a large group of people, especially attackers or invaders”. They go on to say that it could also be a group of animals, such as locusts.

Q: Yeah, because after the fires, floods and disease this year, a horde of locusts would be just marvellous, wouldn’t it?

A: Relax, it’s just an example.

Q: So basically a “horde” is a pitch-fork waving, burning-torch wielding angry bunch of people?

A: At its core, yes. Although it’s often used colloquially to simply describe a large number of people. For example, “hordes of people stormed the store on Black Friday” – that’s less about anger and more about discount flat screen TVs.

Q: Got it. And is “horde” just a noun?

A: Well many dictionaries go with that. However, Macquarie also lists the verb “horde”, as in “to gather in a horde”. So in the previous example, you could say that shoppers were noted hording the store. But that usage is rare.

Q: And what if I decided to stockpile lots of pitchforking people? Would I be hoarding or hording?

A: You’d be hoarding a horde. And the result in your basement would be both a hoard and a horde. Hope you’ve got enough pasta and rice.

Q: Okay, very funny. Now, there’s “hoarding” as a verb, but I’ve also heard of a physical “hoarding”. What’s that?

A: It’s unrelated. A “hoarding” is a temporary fence, usually around a building site. Outside America, it’s also a billboard – so you might see ads on hoardings.

Q: And what if I collected enough of THOSE?

A: Sigh… then YES, you’d be hoarding hoardings. Is that what you wanted to hear?

Q: It was. Tee hee.

A: Glad we could help.

Q: So as a recap, to stockpile things is to “hoard”. The pile itself is also a “hoard”. An angry crowd of people is a “horde”. But the big pile of pitchforks they choose from is in fact a “hoard”.

A: Sounds about right. If confused, think of the “a” in “hoard” as standing for “accumulate”.

Q: Great. Now, can I interest you in some chapsticks? I only bought them for that joke earlier…

If you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore, email it to us today!


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