What’s in a word?

The English language is full of pairs of words which have meanings similar to, but not exactly the same as, each other.  In terms of the Choir, two such are “practise” and “rehearse”.  What do we do on Thursday evenings –  rehearse or practise?

For many, the words have the same meaning.  But there is a subtle difference.

“Practise” comes from Latin and Greek words meaning to repeat something several times, improving each time – and indeed the idea of medical doctors “practising” comes from the idea that they use their past experience to perform ever improving diagnostic and surgical procedures on many patients.

“Rehearse” comes from a curious French word “rehercier”, not from anything to do with hearing.  “Hercier” is the French word for to harrow, in the agricultural sense, meaning to break down the clods of earth left from ploughing and examine them before planting the next season’s crop.  So “re-hercier” is do do that a number of times.

Coming back to Thursday evenings, Carlos makes sure that our time is spent both taking the music apart for examination and running through the same section several times, getting better (hopefully!) each time.  So we both “rehearse” and “practise”, in the precise meanings of the words.

Maybe this duality and ambiguity is why I say to Anne on a Thursday evening, simply, “It’s time for me to go to Choir.”

My thanks to Ed Ayres, ABC Classic presenter, who sparked my interest in these words  by a reference to “rehearse” and “rehercier” in his most recent book “Whole Notes”.