Wednesday, April 04, 2018



Dear Mike,

Diana Wells, Lives of the Trees: An Uncommon History (Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 2010), p. 52:
Silver birch, our name for the European birch, Betula pendula ("drooping birch"), is thought to date from this 1830 Dirge by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Tennyson's "birk" was the Scottish name for the tree, and the many British place-names with the "birk" prefix shows how widespread the birch tree was and still is.
Not a birchable offence this, but sloppy. Birk was and is the Scottish name, but more to the point, as the OED and EDD make plain, it was a northernism that extended as far south as Tennyson's native Lincolnshire. And 'silver birch' predates the poem. I found an occurrence for 1826 but there are probably earlier ones. It's a lovely poem.

‘Self-pleached deep’ is a striking phrase worthy of Hopkins, who would have exploited its grammatical ambiguities. The verb is itself pleached with 'complicated' through Latin 'plicare'. Perhaps complicated people (Hopkins for one) should be called 'self-pleached', as a benign alternative to thrawn. I suspect, though, that relaunched, it wouldn't make much of a plash. No one practices pleaching any more.

Best wishes,
Eric [Thomson]

Betula pendula

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