Hurdle vs. Hurtle

By Maeve Maddox

The following quotation is from a site devoted to business English. The blogger is explaining the expression “to give a heads-up”:

“This is a heads-up” is a very American way of saying, “I’m telling you this now because xyz item is hurdling in your direction and you’re going to need to do something or get out of the way.” It’s simultaneously a notice and a warning.

The presence of the word hurdling in this explanation is a strong indication that the author of this site may have a shaky grasp of the language he’s explaining. The word he’s reaching for is hurtling.

Here are some more examples of the misuse of hurdling on the Web:

Asteroid hurdling towards earth
Hurdling Toward a Lockout
Are we hurdling towards oblivion and cataclysmic destruction?
Is wealth inequality in America hurdling our nation toward civil unrest?
Truck crashes into car, sends it hurdling towards bus stop.

In each example, the word should be hurtling.

Although both hurdle and hurtle can be used as either verb or noun, in most general contexts, hurdle is usually a noun and hurtle a verb.

hurdle
A hurdle is a portable rectangular frame that farmers use to set up temporary enclosures. In sports, a hurdle is a barrier to be jumped over by horses or athletes.

Hurdle can be used as a verb to mean either “to build a hurdle,” or “to jump over an obstacle.”

The noun hurdle is frequently used figuratively:

Ex-Im Bank Hits Hurdle in New GOP Leadership
Xbox One’s Next Hurdle, Developing True Exclusives
Last hurdle before Palmas title
Parliament clears final hurdle towards EU pesticide blacklist.

In these figurative uses, a hurdle is any obstacle.

The financial term “hurdle rate” refers to the minimum rate of return, when applying a discounted cash flow analysis, that an investor requires before committing to an investment.

hurtle
As an intransitive verb, hurtle means “to move along rapidly or wildly”:

The out-of-control train hurtled along the tracks.
Without warning, the rock came hurtling at the campers.
Helplessly, I watched the bicycle hurtle past me into traffic.

The transitive use of hurtle is not unknown, but in modern usage the word hurl is used more frequently for the meaning “to throw with force,” as in “The athlete hurled the shot put 20 yards.” Novelist Louise Penney, on the other hand, describes an arrowhead “hurtled from a bow.”

If you find yourself writing the word hurdling, stop. Unless the context has something to do with jumping over a hurdle, hurtling is your word.

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2 Responses to “Hurdle vs. Hurtle”

  • Bill

    More than meaning “any obstacle,” “hurdle” also implies that the obstacle is one in a series of obstacles, as three of the four examples show. As for the misuse of it, maybe we Yanks deserve a break. We pronounce both words the same.

  • Alex

    True, but being wrong makes “we Yanks” look stupid 🙂 May as well spend the time it takes to learn to speak/write correctly. A little every day, right? Thanks for the post!

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