May 17th is National Pack Rat Day, and day meant to encourage us all to do a little spring cleaning.
The term pack rat comes from the bushy-tailed woodrat, a rodent known for dragging just about anything and everything off to its nest. Calling a person a pack rat dates from the 1880s. You probably know someone who has a tendency to accumulate lot of stuff. Their drawers and closets are filled to bursting, and when they do get organized, it's often to make room for even more stuff.
We've collected a stash of terms associated with the urge to accumulate. And if that's not enough, check out this list: Gimme, Gimme Gimme.
stockpile and cache
Words like stockpile and cache have a militaristic tone which lends a certain gravitas to the practice, never mind if what is being stockpiled is an assortment of every spork ever made or the full run of Alf stickers in their original packaging. Stockpile originally referred to the amount of coal piled up in reserve. Cache comes from French Canadian trapper's slang for "hiding place". The term later came to refer to the hidden items as well as the actual hiding place itself.
garner, accrue, hoard, and accumulate
Garner is a word that is usually used in the sense of picking up or gathering, as in the phrase "to garner praise." It originated in the late 15th century, meaning "to store grain." Although farmers set out intentionally to store grain, these days garner is more often used with a sense of chance or lack of intentionality, usually with positive connotations. If you're a serious fillmmaker, you might not set out on a project to please critics, but garnering good reviews certainly helps your prospects as an artist.
Accrue is another word with a similar passive sense like garner. Accrue means to "gain by increment" and emphasizes the slow growth of carefully maintained and curated collections. The value of an object may accrue without the collector doing anything at all, other than keeping it over a period of time.
If garner and accrue have relatively passive senses, they contrast with the verb hoard, which couldn't be more active. A hoard originally referred to "a treasure, a valuable stock or store." To hoard items is to zealously collect and vigilantly hold onto them. Hoard is often used to connote a somewhat obsessive degree of collecting.
Both hoarders and collectors accumulate a lot of stuff. Accumulate, a word from the early 16th century, literally means "to heap up, amass" from Latin cumulus, "heap." This is the same root that gives cumulus clouds their name, because the clouds resemble a big pile of fluffiness.
Perhaps the word that best sums up all this behavior is acquisition. Dating from the 14th century, this word contains an element derived from the Latin quaerere, which means "seek to obtain." Hoarders and collectors both seek to obtain many, many things that they see as desirable.
Whether you're a minimalist who lives by a less-is-more mantra, or are prone to squirrel away treasures for posterity, National Pack Rat Day is a good time for some self-reflection on what drives people (and rodents) to hold on to things.
Adam Cooper studied linguistics at Brandeis University and The University of Chicago. Since 2010, he has been working with The Endangered Language Alliance in New York City on documentation and preservation projects.Click here to read other articles by Adam Cooper
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