1291 (in Anglo-Latin), "flat framework for candles, hung over a coffin," from O.Fr. herce "long rake, harrow," from M.L. hercia, from L. hirpicem (nom. hirpex) "harrow," from Oscan hirpus "wolf," supposedly in allusion to its teeth. The Oscan word may be related to L. hirsutus "shaggy, bristly." So called because it resembled a harrow, a large rake for breaking up soil. Sense extended to other temporary frameworks built over dead people, then to "vehicle for carrying a body," a sense first recorded 1650.