Stories We Like: Novels For Language Lovers
c.1300 (late 13c. in Anglo-Latin), "flat framework for candles, hung over a coffin," from Old French herce "long rake, harrow," from Medieval Latin hercia, from Latin hirpicem (nominative hirpex) "harrow," from Oscan hirpus "wolf," supposedly in allusion to its teeth. Or the Oscan word may be related to Latin hirsutus "shaggy, bristly." The funeral display so called because it resembled a harrow, a large rake for breaking up soil. For spelling, see head. Sense extended to other temporary frameworks built over dead people, then to "vehicle for carrying a body," a sense first recorded 1640s.