The word hearse was first used in English around the late thirteenth century. Obviously, they didn't have vehicular hearses like today, but the term referred to a framework placed underneath the coffin for decorative purposes. Around the sixteenth century, the definition shifted to encompass a type of structure used by pallbearers to transport coffins, and then around 1650 it was first used in regard to carriages used in funeral processions, which naturally developed into our modern sense. The word comes from French herce, where it meant "harrow" (a type of spiked cultivation tool) or "portcullis", which visually resembled the early frameworks. That traces to Latin hirpex, which also meant "harrow" and might be from a non-Italic word meaning "wolf", on the notion of wolves having spiky teeth like harrows.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.