What does “to harry” mean?

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: to harry.

The novel All The Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, is one of the finest books I’ve read in years. Set during the time of the Second World War, the book tells the story from the point of view of two very different children.

The first, is a young French girl, who is blind. The second is an even younger German boy who is an exceptionally gifted (with a particular flair for engineering) and who is also poor and an orphan. Need I tell you that their lives eventually intersect? That the book accomplishes this in a way not easy to predict is one of its strong suits.

The story is riveting but the writing even more so. The novel also gave me my word of the week, the verb to harry. Here’s how the author used it

That her father and Etienne and Madame Manec and the German boy named Werner Pfennig might harry the sky in flocks, like egrets, like terns, like starlings?

The word comes from the Old English hergian meaning “to make war, lay waste, ravage, plunder.” It was used in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle to describe what the Vikings did to England. The weakened sense of the word meaning “to worry, goad, harass” dates back to 1400.

I’ve selected a photo of some young women harrying a workmate to illustrate this use of the word.

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