Wednesday, January 06, 2010


Vocabulary Lessons

Excerpts from Oliver Rackham, The History of the Countryside (London: J.M. Dent, 1986; rpt. London: Phoenix, 2000):

p. 67 (chapter 5: Woodland):
The trees of a wood are divided into timber trees (a minority) and underwood. Every so often an area of underwood, called a panel, cant, or hag, is felled and allowed to grow again by coppicing or suckering. Scattered among the underwood are the timber trees, which are allowed to stand for several cycles of regrowth and are felled when full-grown. Timber trees are usually replaced by seedlings. The whole wood is demarcated from its surroundings by an earthwork called a woodbank with a ditch on its outer side, traditionally set with a hedge to keep out livestock and with pollard trees at intervals to define the legal boundary.

The wood therefore yields two products, timber from the trunks of the timber trees, and wood from coppice stools or suckers (plus the branches of felled timber trees). Timber and wood had different uses and are not to be confused; we still talk of 'timber' buildings and 'wood' fires. Wood is rods, poles, and logs, used for fencing, wattlework, and many specialized purposes but in large quantities for fuel. Timber is the stuff of beams and planks and is too valuable (and too big) to burn. Underwood was normally the more important product; woods were traditionally regarded as sources of energy.
p. 79 (chapter 5: Woodland):
The Anglo-Saxon language is rich in words for woodland. Some we still use, as as wudu 'wood', grāf 'grove', scaga 'shaw', hangr 'hanger'; others — bearu, holt, fyrhþ, etc. — are forgotten. There is no evidence as to what different kinds of woodland these meant, and etymologists' guesses are not to be believed.
pp. 129-130 (chapter 6: Wood-pasture — Wooded commons, parks and wooded Forests:
The mysterious word forest may in its Germanic origin, have meant a tract of trees. In Western Europe it came to mean land on which deer were protected by special byelaws. The laws and the word were introduced to England from the Continent by William the Conqueror. For many centuries Forest meant a place of deer. The Authorized Version of the Bible, published in 1611, doubtless encouraged Englishmen to connect forest with trees, but the word could still mean 'heath' more than a century later.

A Forest in this book means a Royal Forest or its private equivalent, an unfenced area where deer were kept. Here I deal mainly with those Forests that happen to be wooded, but I re-emphasize that the word Forest does not imply woodland; moorland, heath, and fenland Forests are discussed in other chapters.

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