Hoard vs. Horde: How to Choose the Right Word

Two Words From Ancient Barbarians

Full Overflowing Storage Unit Bursting with Heap of Junk
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The words "hoard" and "horde" are homophones: They sound alike but have different meanings and histories, although both have been associated with barbarians and their activities.

How to Use "Hoard"

The term "hoard" is derived from the Old English word hord, dated to the 10th century, which is found in the Anglo-Saxon poem "Beowulf." In the poem, Beowulf is an old man when he hears that a dragon who has a "room heaped high with treasure" has been angered by a slave who stole a jeweled cup from his hoard.

The modern English noun "hoard" refers to an accumulation or collection of something valuable that is hidden away or preserved for later use, similar to "cache." As a verb, "hoard" means to collect and store away or to keep something to oneself.

The word also refers to Viking booty stolen from hapless Anglo-Saxons. Forgotten Viking hoards, such as the Cuerdale and Silverdale hoards, are still occasionally found in caches in the United Kingdom. The word "hoard" is used in this sense to refer to deposits found from many different ancient civilizations, saved for both ritual and/or financial purposes.

"Hoarding behavior," that is to say the practice of storing excess goods away for future use, is something that many animals do. One could argue that keeping a savings account is "hoarding." But in humans, excessive hoarding is often viewed as a sign of mental disturbance, as shown in the reality television program "Buried Alive."

Recent sociological studies have found that people hoard things for many different reasons:

  • Because they are concerned about waste
  • As a social critique of modern culture and its overinvolvement with material things
  • Because the objects have meaning with regard to interpersonal relationships with other humans
  • Because they have no better storage facility in which to keep things 

Beowulf and a Treasured Hord

The earliest use of the word "hord" is in Beowulf, the oldest surviving tale in English. Beowulf was written in Old English in about 700 CE (based on the form of the language), and the oldest copy in existence is dated 1000 CE. The poem is all about swords and sorcery—a heroic prince named Beowulf battles a monstrous dragon named Grendel. In Beowulf, "hord" is primarily used to mean Grendel's cache of jewels. However, Beowulf's main sword is referred to by 17 different metaphors, including "hord."

Swords were a sign of wealth and the symbol of rank in early German society, and this particular weapon was truly exceptional—an iron sword bound with gold named Hrunting. According to American philologist J. R. Hall, the poet of Beowulf used "hord" as a metaphor for a "treasured sword," a precious object that would easily fit into a hoard. "Hord" was used in other Old English manuscripts as a metaphor for the human soul, Christ, or the crucifix. Those uses are not present in modern English language.

How to Use "Horde"

The noun "horde" means a crowd, throng, or swarm of wild or fierce people; a gang or crew. The word originates from the Tartar word urda, which means "royal camp," first used in English in the 16th century to refer to the companies of the descendants of 12th-century warrior Genghis Khan's "Golden Horde" or Altun Ordu.

Examples

"Hoard" always refers to a collection of objects or animals when used as a noun and to the collecting of those objects or animals when used as a verb.

  • An unemployed man with a metal detector stumbled upon one of the greatest hoards of Anglo-Saxon treasure ever discovered in Britain.
  • Mary hoarded her paperweight collection in her safe deposit box, certain that her children would want to sell it after she was gone.
  • Mr. Smith kept a hoard of cats on his farm: dozens of cats hidden away in cages or running free.

"Horde" always refers to a large group of living humans or animals.

  • Nintendo's new video game system has attracted hordes of casual gamers.
  • When the morning bell rang, a horde of teachers came piling out of the staff room.
  • The Golden Horde was a khanate of the Mongol Empire, a military force that conquered the Viking descendants Rus' in northwestern Russia in the 13th century.

How to Remember the Difference

"Horde" and "hoard" are easily confused because the spelling differences are relatively minor. Remember that "horde" (with an "e" and no "a") is like an erupting nest of angry hornets (think "horde of hornets)"; whereas "hoard" (with an "a" and no "e") refers to a precious treasure that is kept by a dragon (also spelled with an "a" and no "e").

Sources

  • Byers, Ann. "The Golden Horde and the Rise of Moscow." New York: Rosen Publishing, 2017.
  • DeWeese, Devin. "Islamization and Native Religion in the Golden Horde: Baba Tÿkles and Conversion to Islam in Historical and Epic Tradition." University Park: Pennsylvania State University, 2010.
  • Fogarty, Mignon. "Hoard Versus Horde." Grammar Girl's 101 Misused Words You'll Never Confuse Again. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2011. p. 66.
  • Hall, J. R. "The Sword Hrunting in "Beowulf": Unlocking the Word 'Hord.'" Studies in Philology, 109.1, 2012, pp. 1-18.
  • "Hoard." OED Online. Oxford University Press, December 2018.
  • "Horde." OED Online. Oxford University Press, December 2018.
  • Orr, David M. R., Michael Preston-Shoot, and Suzy Braye. "Meaning in Hoarding: Perspectives of People Who Hoard on Clutter, Culture and Agency." Anthropology & Medicine, 12 Dec. 2017, pp. 1-17.