Heard - herd

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Heard and herd are homophones: both are pronounced IPA: /hɜːrd/. If a writer chooses the wrong one in any context, a spell-checker will not register it as an error. So writers must be careful to choose the right one.

  • Heard is the past tense and participle of the irregular verb 'to hear'.
  • A herd (with no '-a-') means 'a collection of animals'.
    • Originally it was used for domestic animals; in contrast with flocks, which in Europe are mostly sheep and goats, herds were of cattle and other bovines.
      • In Old English, and still in Scotland, a herd is also a farm-worker with responsibility for looking after animals. Nowadays this is almost always compounded with the type of animal: 'cowherds' and 'shepherds' [from 'sheep'] most often. Until after Early Modern English, 'swineherds' and 'goose-herds' were also common, but there is less call for them in current farming.
    • From the thirteenth century, when it was applied to deer, herd has also been used for wild animals in company, such as wildebeest, elephant and giraffe.
    • In an extended meaning, it has often been applied to people, such as herds [crowds] of commuters.
      • In medical and veterinary contexts, the concept of herd immunity is the idea that a population (originally a herd of cattle) will be resistant to a particular disease if a sufficient number of members have been infected with, or vaccinated against, a particular disease, gaining individual immunity. This reduces the chances of others being infected. According to [Johns Hopkins University], "usually 70% to 90% of a population needs immunity to achieve herd immunity."
      • 'The herd' is an idiom for the common mentality, or the habits of thinking of a crowd; this figure of speech is used in 'herd behaviour', a term used in psychology, marketing and so on to indicate the way that a mass of people will behave in ways that each individual might avoid, on the grounds of its irrationality.
  • The verb 'to herd' means, in farming, 'to drive a group of animals as one'.
    • Intransitively, it means 'to come together in a group with common purpose': "the bystanders herded together in panic".
    • By extension, humans can be herded: school-teachers may herd their pupils from place to place on an educational visit.