Land Words

Words are endlessly fascinating. Naming is so interesting and important. I read recently about a book by John McPhee, The Crofter and the Land. McPhee visited the Hebridean island of Colonsay where his family originated. He discovered that every beach, gully, cliff and rise of land has a name. On a tiny island of only 138 inhabitants, he found 1,600 place names. Among them are: The Glen of the Baglike Plain,   The Shelter of Miserable WomenBald Kenneth’s Daughter’s Fishing Rock and  The Ruins of the House of Boisterous Angus.

Whether you live in the town or the country you will know names for places where you live. You could find out more. You can make a list of features: things like ditch, kerb, alley, lane, pond, mere, pightle (in Suffolk ‘pightle’ means a small field, probably near a house). The words you know may be very local. I have discovered that ‘pightle’ probaby comes from pigtail, a little bit of awkwardly shaped land left over when the fields were enclosed in the 13thcentury. But that is another story.

It is good to have a list of words from land and city scape. And it could be fun, then, to name parts of where you live in the way the islanders of Colonsay have done. It may be that you are going out for a walk each day. Where do you go and what do you notice? You may have names for some places already and you can make more up.

I walk past what we all call the Henry VIII oak and what I now think of as The Oak Where Safety-conscious John Cut Down the Fabulous Swing and my short walk is along The Ditch Path. I might mention the House of Mrs Harrison and the Barking Dogs or Julie’s Bungalow or Dog Walkers’ Alley. You will have names of your own where you live. Some will be names that everyone uses. Some may be entirely yours.


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