hark back

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Originally a hunting command, literally “Listen! Go back!”, thence a term to refer to the process. In the 19th century US became used in a figurative sense “to go back to an earlier point or topic in a discussion”. In 20th century American usage used more loosely for references to the past (often historical past, rather than earlier in a given discussion), particularly nostalgic.


hark back (third-person singular simple present harks back, present participle harking back, simple past and past participle harked back)

  1. (hunting) Of hounds, to retrace a course in order to pick up a lost scent.
    • Haggard
      He must have overshot the mark, and must hark back.
  2. (figuratively, US) To return or revert (to a subject etc.), to allude to, to evoke, to long or pine for (a past event or era).
    • W. E. Norris
      He harked back to the subject.
    • 2006 September 11, “Bush Mourns 9/11 at Ground Zero as N.Y. Remembers”, in New York Times[1]:
      Harking back to the theme of a series of speeches he delivered last week, he said he was reminded that “there’s still an enemy out there that would like to inflict the same kind of damage again.”

Usage notes[edit]

The forms harken back and hearken back are also found, and have been used since the 1930s, and the bare form harken has been used since the 1980s, though some authorities frown on these and prefer the traditional form hark back.

The eggcorn harp back (influenced by harp on) is occasionally found, but generally regarded as an error.



See also[edit]


  • Merriam-Webster’s dictionary of English usage, 1995, p. 497
  • Hark/Hearken”, Paul Brians, Common Errors in English Usage, (2nd Edition, November, 2008)
  • Harping back or harking back?”, Mark Liberman, Language Log, June 25, 2004