Maureen Dowd’s article titled “Spellbound by Blondes, Hot and Icy” appearing in December 1st NY-Times jumps from Alfred Hitchcock’s favor of blonde actresses to the dispute of Hillary Clinton’s responsibility for ill-handling of Benghazi attack that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans.

“While Republicans continue their full-cry pursuit of Susan Rice, the actual secretary of state has eluded blame, even though Benghazi is her responsibility. The assault happened on Hillary’s watch, at her consulate, with her ambassador. Given that we figured out a while ago that the Arab Spring could be perilous as well as promising, why hadn’t the State Department developed new norms for security in that part of the world?”

As I didn’t know the word, ‘full-cry,’ I consulted Cambridge, Merriam-Webster, and Oxford online dictionary. None of them registers “full-cry,” but for Cambridge Dictionary carrying “in full cry” as an idiom meaning ‘taking continuously about in a noisy or eager way’.

Google Ngram shows neither “full cry” nor “full-cry,” while showing incidences of “in full cry” since cir 1840. Its usage continues to decline all the way.

Though I surmise “full-cry pursuit” means ferocious and tenacious pursuit from the definition of “in full cry” by Cambridge Dictionary, I wonder if the word “full-cry” is received as a stand-alone adjective as used by Maureen Dowd.

Can “full-cry” be used as an adjective or a noun sui generis? If yes, is it always necessary to combine 'full' and 'cry' with a hyphen?

  • It doesn't have to be a defined adjective. "In many languages, including English, it is possible for nouns to modify other nouns. Unlike adjectives, nouns acting as modifiers (called attributive nouns or noun adjuncts) are not predicative; a beautiful park is beautiful, but a car park is not "car". In plain English, the modifier ... may generally indicate almost any semantic relationship." (Wikipedia: Other noun modifiers en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adjective#Other_noun_modifiers )
    – Kris
    Dec 2, 2012 at 8:27
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    +1 One of the very thoughtful questions, so rare these days.
    – Kris
    Dec 2, 2012 at 8:28
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    Just to make explicit what the answers imply: O'Dowd here is not being at all self-indulgent or cute; it's a rare use, but not a strained one. Dec 2, 2012 at 12:07
  • @StoneyB The writer is Ms Dowd not O'Dowd .
    – Kris
    Dec 2, 2012 at 12:20
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    @Yoichi: I don't see it mentioned anywhere else on this page, but in practice, when "full-cry" is used adjectivally it will almost always be followed by "pursuit" (as it is in every one of those Google Books citations). It's a "fixed term" that we simply don't use with any other noun. So I'd say that leading adjectival full-cry (as opposed to trailing in full cry) is almost a fossil word Dec 2, 2012 at 16:56

4 Answers 4


The OED has an entry for full cry that may be more useful than those you’ve found. It is sense 12b. I will give the a sense, then the b sense with citations:

  • 12. a. The yelping of hounds in the chase.

  • b. Hence various phrases: e.g. to give cry, to open upon the cry; full cry, full pursuit; also fig.

    • 1589 R. Harvey Pl. Perc. 6 ― Will you··run vpon a Christen body, with full cry and open mouth?
    • 1649 Fuller Just Man’s Fun. 13 ― Hear the whole kennel of Atheists come in with a full crie.
    • 1684 R. H. Sch. Recreat. 16 ― Being in full Cry and main Chase, comfort and cheer them with Horn and Voice.
    • 1710 Palmer Proverbs 53 ― He gives out this cue to his admirers, who are sure to open upon the cry ’till they are hoarse again.
    • 1858 Hawthorne Fr. & It. Jrnls. II. 32 ― All offering their merchandise at full cry.
    • 1891 Rev. of Reviews July 25 ― The journalists gave cry after the Prince, like a pack of hounds when they strike the trail of a fox.

So it appears that the phrase is quite old. It seems to mean “full pursuit”.

Interestingly, the very oldest citation for the word cry is a citation from Laȝamon that ends in “doleful cry”:

  • C. 1275 Lay. 11991 ― Nas neuere no man··þat i-horde þane cri [C. 1205 þesne weop] hou hii gradde to þan halwes, þat his heorte ne mihte beo sori for þane deolfulle cri.

That is a “doleful cry”, so one of pain, a dolorous one. It doesn’t actually mean in full cry there.

  • Yes, except that it means not so much full pursuit as noisy pursuit: literally unrestrained barking/belling, so figuratively unrestrained, enthusiastic rhetoric.
    – MetaEd
    Dec 2, 2012 at 7:41
  • -1 I looked for a reference to adjective in the answer.
    – Kris
    Dec 2, 2012 at 8:22

"Full-cry" is not a stand-alone adjective in the phrase "full-cry pursuit"; it's part of a larger noun phrase: "full-cry pursuit". The general rule about using two words to modify a third is that the first two words are hyphenated, as is the case with "well known" (ADV+ADJ) when they're in front of the word they modify, e.g., "He's a well-known liar", but isn't hyphenated when they appear as a predicate adjective phrase, e.g., "That he's a liar is well known". This is the case with "full cry/full-cry". "In full cry" is a prepositional phrase with a noun phrase, "full cry", as the object. "Full" is the adjective, "cry" is the noun, and because the PP's a complement that isn't modifying an immediately following noun or noun phrase, it's not hyphenated. There are many such collocations that don't appear in the dictionary because the rule that we follow is clear and simple (if writers can remember it and care about following such "rules").


To answer the basic question, it does not seem to be usual. There is only one record of its use in the Corpus of Contemporary American and English and none in the British National Corpus. The fact that it is unusual does not, of course, mean that it shouldn’t be used.

  • 1
    In general, we could use nearly any suitable noun to modify another noun. We don't always need an adjective. I'd say full-cry here is a noun, not an adjective.
    – Kris
    Dec 2, 2012 at 8:42
  • @Kris. I'd say so too. Dec 2, 2012 at 9:00
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    In the phrase "full-cry pursuit", it may very well be a noun, but it functions as a nominal adjective. Really, guys, what difference does it make what POS it is? The function is what counts: What it does in the sentence is more important than what category of speech it belongs to. Good writers neither care nor need to know what part of speech a word is as long as they know how to use it. Only professional grammarians & linguists care, & they have to care because that's what they think & talk & write about. It's a modifier. Modifiers of nouns are adjectives, of adjectives are adverbs, etc.
    – user21497
    Dec 2, 2012 at 9:50
  • @Bill Franke What does 'POS' mean? Is it a website terminology? Google Search doesn't give me answer. Dec 2, 2012 at 20:36
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    @YoichiOishi You have nothing, absolutely nothing, to be ashamed of in that regard. You are the most patient, diligent, and assiduous Japanese person I have ever met when it comes to your study of English. You should be proud of yourself.
    – tchrist
    Dec 4, 2012 at 4:54

English traditional song from the county of Cheshire:

Through Macclesfield Forest bold Reynard did fly

At his brush closely followed the hounds in full cry

Yoichi Oishi -

Reynard is the anthropomorphic folk name for a fox Vulpes vulpes.

His brush is his tail.

In the UK there was a long tradition of hunting foxes with a pack of hounds, until it was banned around 2004.

"Fox hunting is an activity involving the tracking, chase, and sometimes killing of a fox, traditionally a red fox, by trained foxhounds or other scent hounds, and a group of unarmed followers led by a master of foxhounds, who follow the hounds on foot or on horseback"

The hounds are said to give cry when they first scent the fox, and then pursue in full cry.

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