more words

A wonderful new book has just been published that I can’t afford to buy right now but I downloaded some reviews and samples from it to share with you. “Landmarks” is a book on language and landscape by Robert Macfarlane (Penguin Books). Billed as ‘a celebration and defence of the language of landscape’, Landscapes ‘goes further by enriching not only our vocabulary of land terms, but also our ways of seeing.’ A reviewer calls it ‘part outdoor adventure story, part literary criticism, part philosophical disquisition, part linguistic excavation project, part mash note - a celebration of nature, of reading, of writing, of language and of people who love those things as much as the author does’ and you and I and word-lovers everywhere. Oh, and there’s more: ‘it’s an argument for sitting down with a book; it’s also an argument for going outside and payIng attention.’

I’m trying to walk more for the sake of my back and regaining my strength and stamina. However, willing as I am, I’m not sure where i can walk in Toronto to get the inspiration that Macfarlane and his readers enjoy in the places they discover, or know well. He has a host of devoted followers who send him words, expressions and dialect terms for the varieties of the natural world that he and they encounter and love. He was inspired to write Landmarks by a “Peat Glossary”, a collection of words used in three townships on the island of Lewis in England to describe the moor. Take a look at mòine dubh - the heavier and darker peats that lie deeper and older into the moor and lèig-chruthaich - quivering bog with water trapped beneath it, and an intact surface.

Landscape and language, you see?

- currel is an east Anglian term for a small stream

- drindle - a diminutive run of water, smaller than a currel

-smeuse is a dialect noun for the gap in the base of a hedge made by the regular passage of a small animal (I doubt if I’ll ever need to use this word but it’s nice to know it’s there.)

I’ll stop with a few words that fans have sent to Macfarlane for his own glossaries. My favourite is glossamer: “shining filaments of web spun across huge areas of landscape by small spiders in autumn, usually only perceptible near dawn or dusk when the light is slant”. I can use that one, perhaps with less specificity, but I can see the need for it arising.


-coire - high, scooped hollow on a mountainside, usually cliff-girt (Geaelic)

-fizmer - the whispering sound of wind in reeds or grass (Fenland)

-grumma - a mirage caused by mist or haze (Shetland)

-zwer - the whizzing noise made by a covey of partridge as they break suddenly from cover

Don’t you love them?

"The world is so full of a number of things/I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.” (Robert Louis Stevenson)