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This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Lawn

How's your flowery mead? If you were a medieval gardener, that's what you would be out mowing every weekend, because although the English had what we call lawns back then, the word “lawn”, derived from the Old French word for a heath, launde (related to “land”), meant a woodland glade. By the late 1600s,”lawns” were stretches of land left untilled and therefore likely to be covered with grass. In the early 1700s, garden design for the stately mansions in England changed to a more natural, less formal style, which incorporated large expanses of grass kept short (usually by sheep!). The word “lawn” was waiting for a job opportunity, and there it was, thanks to the the 18th-century garden designers who developed the classic English garden. So, alas, no flowery mead mowers for us. And no “lawn sheep” either.

1 comment:

  1. Hello,

    I was almost convinced that "land" was a Germanic word. Its presence (even in a modified form) in Old French certainly doesn't remove this possibility, but I wish I knew more about it.

    Thanks.

    ReplyDelete

About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.