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8 November 2010

Monday's word - straddle

 No, I'm not straddling a fence or anything like that!  This is a word that Michael Quinion has featured in his 'Worldwide Words this week:
 "Readers of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy may recognise this as the name of one of the villages of the Bree Land. It suggests the strength and stoutheartedness of a people who for him meant all that was solid and dependable about traditional England. Like most of Tolkien's words, it's no accident. He was borrowing an Old English word that meant variously a foundation or support.

We've almost entirely lost it today, though it survived for some centuries in English dialect, most commonly in the south of the country. One sense was of a stump of a tree that was left in the ground after felling so that a clump of thin stems could grow from
it, a technique called coppicing. It could also refer to a tree left in place when all around had been felled, so that it would grow to full size, called a standard, unencumbered by neighbours. The connection between these senses is that one form of woodland
management was called "coppice with standards", which combined the two methods. "Staddle" seems to have been used indiscriminately for
both components.

The sense you're most likely to encounter, however, especially if you visit a museum of historic buildings, is of a stone carved in the shape of a mushroom, with a conical stem and a wide rounded top. This isn't a staddle, strictly speaking, but a staddle stone. It was one of the supports that kept the actual staddle, the wood or stone base of a hay rick or granary, clear of the ground.

I think this is a good example of names being used effectively, to give a place name a sense of purpose. It's also a word that you might find useful if you write historical fiction, to add touch of authenticity.

*World Wide Words is copyright (c) Michael Quinion 2010. All rights reserved. The Words Web site is at http://www.worldwidewds.
Reproduced with permission