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The meaning and origin of the expression: Harum-scarum


What's the meaning of the phrase 'Harum-scarum'?

'Harum-scarum' behaviour is that which is reckless and carelessly wild.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Harum-scarum'?

Harum-scarum is now an archaic expression and I doubt that many millennials would come across it very often.

It is a British expression dating from the late 17th century. It was used both to describe wild behaviour and as a name for the young 'harum-scarums' who indulged in it.

As to the origin of this odd reduplicated phrase, some have suggested that it is formed by an amalgamation of hare and scare. Several early dictionary entries list the phrase as hare'em and scare'em or hare'um and scare'um.

The meaning and origin of the phrase 'Harum-scarum'.That suggestion uses the verb 'to hare' in an allusion to the manner of a hare being chased, which is fast and wildly erratic.

However, the earliest example of the expression in print, and several others, differ slightly and are spelled 'harum starum', which doesn't correspond with the above explanation. That citation is in John Ray's A Collection of English Words Not Generally Used, 1691:

To Hare, to affright or make wild: to go harum starum.

Starum isn't a word in its own right and may just be a nonsense word added just to make the rhyme, which is often the case with reduplicated phrases.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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