hark back

See also: hark-back



From hark (to listen attentively) + back (to or in a previous condition or place, adverb), originally a hunting command to hounds meaning “Listen! Go back!”.[1]



hark back (third-person singular simple present harks back, present participle harking back, simple past and past participle harked back)

  1. (intransitive)
    1. (hunting) Of hounds: to retrace a course in order to pick up the lost scent of prey.
    2. (by extension) To return to where one has previously been; to retrace one's steps.
    3. (figuratively) To allude, return, or revert (to a subject previously mentioned, etc.); also, to evoke, or long or pine for (a past era or event). [from 19th c.]
      Synonyms: harken back, (both sometimes proscribed) hearken back
      • 1881, W[illiam] E[dward] Norris, “A Racecourse and a Cathedral”, in Matrimony. [], volume II, London: Smith, Elder & Co., [], OCLC 1152811844, pages 76–77:
        Mr. Flemyng, who had been assuaging his thirst with more champagne during the afternoon, had harked back to the subject of his morning's discourse, and was laying down an authoritative scheme of ethics, in the course of which sundry hard words, such as transcendentalism, pseudo-materialism and the like, lost a syllable here and there.
      • 2006 September 11, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, “Bush Mourns 9/11 at Ground Zero as N.Y. Remembers”, in The New York Times[2], New York, N.Y.: The New York Times Company, ISSN 0362-4331, OCLC 971436363, archived from the original on 22 December 2020:
        Harking back to the theme of a series of speeches he [George W. Bush] delivered last week, he said he was reminded that "there's still an enemy out there that would like to inflict the same kind of damage again."
  2. (transitive, hunting) To call back (hounds); to recall.

Usage notesEdit

The forms harken back and hearken back have been used since the 1930s, and the bare form harken has been used since the 1980s, though some authorities frown on these and prefer the traditional form hark back.[2]

The eggcorn harp back (influenced by harp on) is occasionally found, but is generally regarded as an error.[3]


See alsoEdit


hark back (plural hark backs)

  1. Alternative form of hark-back
    1. (hunting) An act of hounds retracing a course in order to pick up the lost scent of prey.
    2. (figuratively) An act of alluding, returning, or reverting (to a subject previously mentioned, etc.); also, an act of evoking, or longing or pining for (a past era or event).

Alternative formsEdit



  1. ^ Paul Brians (2009) , “hark/hearken”, in Common Errors in English Usage, 2nd edition, Wilsonville, Or.: William, James & Company, →ISBN.
  2. ^ See, for example, Don Hoeferkamp (31 January 2011) , “Harking Back/Hearkening Back”, in A Lighthearted Book of Common Errors, [Bloomington, Ind.]: Trafford Publishing, →ISBN, page 33.
  3. ^ Mark Liberman (25 June 2004) , “Harping Back or Harking Back?”, in Language Log[1], archived from the original on 1 February 2021.

Further readingEdit