hitch

Married, wedded, knot tied, vows exchanged, “hereby” issued, hitched. Yes, I got hitched, and nothing says “newlywed bliss” quite like an etymology.

If we go back to Middle English, to hitch was “to move by jerks” (Skeat), “raise with a jerk,” (Weekley), or “move jerkily” (Partridge, ODEE). It was said especially of pants and trousers. Hike, as in hike up your pants,” is related. This hitch was adapted to nautical environments, describing fastening and referring more specifically to catching something with a loop or jerking a rope around an object, thereby causing an obstruction. Hence the expression to go off without a hitch. This notion of fastening was later applied to equine needs, as teams of horses were hitched together. To hitch horses together was, so it goes, a way of saying two people got along. In his Dictionary of Americanisms (1859), Bartlett spells out “to hitch horses” a little more compellingly, if in the negative:

It is a common expression, when persons do not agree, to say ‘they don’t hitch horses together.’ Men who do not agree will not stop at the same house or tavern, or will not hitch their horses at the same stake. It is also contracted into ‘do not hitch horses together,’ and still further into, ‘do not hitch.’

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, there is evidence that this metaphor of hitching was said of married couples as early as 1837, with the expression “to get hitched” attested in 1844. (I, for one, find it interesting the sense is preserved in a sort of middle voice.)

Whence the Middle English hitch? Some cite the Middle English icchen, “to move jerkily,” where the trail ends; others look to variants in hatch and hotch. Partridge focuses on the latter, positing the Middle High German hotzen, “to shake.” Weekley also focuses on hotch, but connects it first to the French hocher, “to shake,” as in hocher la tete, “to nod the head.” This hocher, he says, is also behind the first element in hodgepodge. With an earlier form of hotchpotch, a hodgepodge was once a kitchen-sink sort of stew but earlier said “of lumping property before division (? by shaking up names in a pot).” The original French was hochepot, “soup,” with the sense, I’m guessing, that one continues to stir certain soups so it doesn’t settle. Whatever the case, Weekly goes on, like Partridge, to link the French hocher to the Germanic hotzen, source also of hustle, a “shaking” of money in a cap.

Hustle? Hodgepodge? Hitch? I’ll stick with another h word: honeymoon. The Mashed Radish will be back in June.

m ∫ r ∫ 

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