Printable Version
Pronunciation: hæk-ni Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. An English breed of horse, a good trotter known for its high stepping. 2. A horse kept for hire for riding or pulling a hired coach. 3. A servile person who will do anything for hire. 4. A coach or other vehicle for hire. ("Hackney carriage" remains the legal term for a taxicab in England today.)

Notes: Today's Good Word may be used as a verb, but it appears mostly in its past partiple form: hackneyed "trite or stale from repeated use", as hackneyed cliches or writing. The noun is usually clipped to hack, leaving the meanings intact. Today it may also be used to refer to a taxicab or a hireling writer who uses trite, stale cliches in his or her writings. (The synonym of hack is cab, short for cabriolet, a two-wheeled carriage also once available for hire around the English-speaking world.)

In Play: Today's Good Word carries a pejorative sense unless referring to the breed of horse: "The reviews of Rhoda Book's first novel were highly critical of its hackneyed phrases and unoriginal plot conceits." Today we use the shortened form of this word in all but its original meaning: "It is easier to get a hack to write your biography in New York than a hack (cab) to get you to work on time."

Word History: The origin of today's Good Word is usually credited to the London suburb of Hackney, where the Hackney horses were originally bred. Because of its high step and brisk trot, this breed became a favorite of hired coach drivers. Over time the word hackney took on the sense of "hirelings", people hired to do menial work, a sense that later settled on writers. By the middle of the 17th century, the meaning of the word had expanded to include the coach-for-hire itself. The clipping of the word, hack, began emerging in the first quarter of the 18th century. The meanings of hackney, "cab" and "mundane writer for hire", have continued in the shortened form down to this day. (We hope this discussion of Tonia V. Kalouria's excellent Good Word is not too hackneyed to do it justice.)

Dr. Goodword,

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