Ken Burns & Lynne Novick’s The Vietnam War I felt was “harrowing.”

What does the word harrowing mean?


In farming this is a harrow.

A device consisting of a heavy framework having several disks or teeth in a row, which is dragged across ploughed land to smooth or break up the soil, to remove weeds or cover seeds;

A harrowing documentary feels like it’s doing this to you?

A harrowing experience is painful, but it breaks up your clods.

The etymology drifts back into the mists of Old Norse before dissolving away into Proto-Indo-European and Old Persian, but it may have something to do with “harvest”



From Proto-Germanic*harjōną (see also East Frisian ferheerje, German verheeren(to harry, devastate)) Swedish härja(ravage, harry)), from Proto-Germanic*harjaz(army) (see also Old English here, West Frisian hear, Dutch heer, German Heer), from Proto-Indo-European*koryos (compare Middle Irish cuire(army), Lithuanian kãrias(army; war), Old Church Slavonic кара(karastrife), Ancient Greek κοίρανος(koíranoschief, commander), Old Persian [script needed](kāraarmy)).

As a boy, Winston Churchill went to a school called Harrow:

which he found to be a harrowing experience.  Churchill had many harrowing experiences.  He was in combat, for one.  That’s a famous harrow.  Having polio is harrowing.

UNITED STATES – SEPTEMBER 27: President Franklin D. Roosevelt leaves his home at 49 East 65th Street for a short visit to his family estate at Hyde Park, north of New York City. This photograph is unusual in that FDR’s leg braces are clearly visible. (Photo by Martin Mcevilly/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

Childbirth has got to be harrowing, as is growing up on the frontier.

You wouldn’t wish any harrowing experiences on anybody, but it seems like all great leaders had been through a harrowing or two.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.