Friday, May 5, 2006

Heckle and Jeckle

From the Orlando Sentinel: Ex-CIA analyst, others heckle Rumsfeld during Atlanta speech
Was Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld heckled by a former CIA agent who stood in line and pressed Rumsfeld to answer several questions? Or simply challenged?

According to, heckling means:
To try to embarrass and annoy (someone speaking or performing in public) by questions, gibes, or objections; badger.
That would seem to suggest that the word might not be quite right, unless you think that the questions were meant ONLY to embarrass and annoy Rumsfeld.

And Oxford English dictionary:
To catechize severely, with a view to discover the weak points of the person interrogated. Long applied in Scotland to the public questioning of parliamentary candidates.

Under the OED definition, in particular, Ray McGovern's questioning might qualify as heckling, though that word seems to be more regularly applied to people who shout out questions or insults at someone on stage. Think Jerry Seinfeld.

Given the nature of McGovern's questions, "heckling" seems a bit strong for the circumstances, a rather loaded word assuming deliberate intent to show up the secretary rather than get answers.

And is "heckled" related to "hectoring"? They would seem to have a common root. Surprise, apparently not.

"Hectoring" (To intimidate or dominate in a blustering way) has a very interesting history. Drawn from the name of the prince of Troy slain by Achilles, the word was originally used positively, as a synonym for hero. But The Mavens at Random Dictionary say this: Indeed, in late Middle and early Modern English the word hector was used generically to mean 'a valiant hero'.

But in the mid-seventeenth century, London was plagued by a violent street gang who called themselves "the Hectors," fancying themselves gallant warriors. The other residents, less thrilled with the Hectors' hooliganism, started using the name as a noun referring to a swaggering bully. At around the same time the word developed the familiar verb sense 'to bully or harass'.

In Greek the name Hector literally means 'holding fast', after a verb 'to have; hold'.

"Heckling" on the other hand, comes from the Middle English hekelen, to comb with a hatchel, a comb for separating flax fibers.

Ya learn something new every day.

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