Words in the News


Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter

As a child I attended the local Anglican church every week, and one of my favourite celebrations was the harvest festival. This annual event, held to celebrate the successful bringing in of the harvest before the onset of winter, harks back to a time when many people’s lives depended quite literally on the success or otherwise of the growing year. The church would be decorated with the fruits and flowers of the season and members of the congregation would bring items of food which were displayed before being distributed to the needy. The harvest supper, which was held the same weekend, recalled the tradition of providing a meal for all those who had helped bring in the harvest. The hymns were pretty good too.

In churches in the UK, the festival is traditionally held on the Sunday closest to the full moon nearest the autumn equinox, which has just passed. This moon, which often appears orange when it is low on the horizon, is commonly known as the harvest moon. In addition to its meanings of the activity of bringing in a crop, the time when this is done, and the amount collected, the noun harvest has metaphorical meanings too. It can be used to refer to the results of something that was done in the past, or to something such as knowledge or experience that has been collected. The verb, meanwhile, has other additional meanings, one referring to the collection more generally of plants or animals that can be used or eaten, so you can harvest timber, rainwater or fish as well as crops. There is also a metaphorical sense referring to collecting or obtaining something for future use, and a specialized meaning referring to taking organs or cells from someone’s body, especially for use in transplants or for medical treatments.

A person or machine that takes part in the harvest is a harvester, a combine harvester being a machine that combines the jobs of cutting grain and removing and cleaning its seeds. Harvest comes from the Old English term ‘hærfest’ meaning ‘autumn’ and is related to the German ‘herbst’ and Dutch ‘herfst’.

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Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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