Our Wonderful, Subtle Language

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HUNTING – The Sealed Knot seek out a quarry.

Metal Detecting Stonewind

SEARCHING – Metal Detectorists examine a find.

I find myself wondering about the difference between HUNT and SEARCH.  In some contexts they seem to mean the same thing, to go in pursuit of an object, a fact, a concept that you know exists but cannot locate at that given moment.

They can however, have very different meanings.  To hunt a man is not the same as to search him. Hunter seems a far more agressive word. You hunt a quarry with the implied intention of capturing or killing it.  You hunt out wrong-doers with the intention of exposing them. You hunt things hidden in secret places and this implies haste, ripping away anything that conceals your goal. It suggests scant concern as to whether you might do damage in the process and you don’t necessarily put things back where you found them.

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THE QUARRY – a boar’s head displayed in a public house in Lymington

Searching is altogether gentler, more cerebral.  You search out facts, research papers that might give you a clue as to what you wish to know. Search has its roots in the old French ‘cerchiez’ and we have incorporated the phrase cherchez la femme into our vocabulary – if two men resort to violence, seek out the woman! Cerchiez is also the root for the French ‘Hunt – la Chasse,’ – pursuing a living creature with a pack of animals.  Hunt, however has mainly old English and Germanic roots -the meanings are invariably  inextricable.

THE ANSWER – searching for the solution to your question in a book.

The thing is, native speakers know which word to use in which context. Hunting, persuing, chasing,investigating, researching, somehow we absorb the differences by instinct.

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The Magic of Language.


7 thoughts on “Our Wonderful, Subtle Language

  1. An excellent lesson in the subtle uses of two similar/dissimilar words. I shall print this off and keep it for foreign friends!
    By the way, did we have to have the ugly Boar’s head? I know you used it to prove a point, but …..

  2. Interesting distinctions, Jan. I hadn’t thought of these differences until you pointed them out, which goes to prove that I have developed an instinctive understanding of the context of words ~ from an early age, like the gorgeous little boys in your photo. I often wonder how the poor grammar, which is so common on social media, affects the users’ comprehension of the world. I can’t imagine how colourless and confusing life would be without the ‘Magic of Language’! 🙂

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