14 ways to hug
Did you know that 21 January was National Hugging Day in the United States? It was created in 1986 and has spread to many other countries in the world – so we encourage you, if others don’t mind, to hug at least one person today. But what if you get tired of the word hug throughout the day? We’ve delved into the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary to come up with some historical substitutions for hug as a verb.
This is perhaps the most common of the synonyms, and clearly isn’t consigned to history. Before embrace ‘to clasp in the arms’ came into English (from French), there was another, separate verb (spelled the same way) meaning ‘to put (a shield) on the arm’. Both ultimately come from the Latin bracchium, ‘arm’; brachium itself is also used in English to mean the arm, specifically the upper arm from shoulder to elbow.
This may sound a bit precious or affected now, but huggle has a long history, dating back to at least the 16th century. There was even a drink in the 18th century that had the nickname huggle-my-buff.
To clip is ‘to clasp with the hands, embrace, hug’ – right back to the Anglo-Saxon Lindisfarne Gospels and earlier. Indeed, this is the oldest sense of clip, which later gave rise to today’s more familiar noun (as in paperclip). Though similar to the modern verb clasp, an etymological link between these words is unlikely.
The um- and umbe- prefixes – conveying something along the lines of ‘around, surrounding’ – and their popularity in Middle English may have been influenced by a similar frequency in Middle Dutch and other languages influencing English in the period. Amongst these (if you’re willing to pick your hug/embrace synonym from the obsolete) are umbeclap, umbefold, and umgripe.
To coll someone is to throw your arms around their neck, or to hug, related accoll (with the same meaning), which was borrowed from French. It sgoes back to Latin collum, ‘neck’, which also underlies collar. Variants include cull, colly, and cully.
To halse (or the dialect variant halch) is another obsolete way to designate embracing – and is not unlike coll in its origins, as halse was a noun meaning ‘neck’.
There’s one sort of smuggling that isn’t illegal: in the late 17th century, smuggle was a synonym for ‘cuddle’. You might be more familiar with snuggle which, alongside its current definition ‘settle or move into a warm, comfortable position’, can mean ‘to hug or cuddle’.
Plight was a rare verb meaning ‘to enfold in one’s arms’, but how does this connect to the current use of plight as a verb, ‘pledge or solemnly promise’?As it turns out, there is no etymological link here – but there probably is with the modern noun plight, ‘a dangerous, difficult, or otherwise unfortunate situation’; both the situation and hugging come from the Anglo-Norman French plit, ‘fold’, albeit by different routes.