Friday, October 23, 2015

Where an alley isn't an alley

British linguist Vivian Cook writes in It's All in a Word about the many words the British have for alleyway, depending mostly on where in Great Britain you happen to be. Up north it can be a snicket. Down south it's a lane. (I can recall eating a wonderful meal in a tiny Thai restaurant along Maiden Lane in London a decade ago.) It's called a twitchell in Nottingham, a ginnel inYorkshire, a drangway in Gower, a folley in Colchester, a jetty in the East Midlands, a jigger in Merseyside, a shut in Shropshire, a stair in Edinburgh, a fennel or close elsewhere in Scotland, a pass in Northern Ireland and a by-passage or lead in other places. Until about 200 years ago, it might have been called a frescade.

That may be less confusing than the many words Americans have for street, sometimes all in the same town. It can also be termed a drive, avenue, boulevard, lane, road, terrace, circle, way, court and a few other imaginative choices.

I live on a short one-block street that at one time was called an avenue on the street sign at one end and something else, maybe a drive, at the other end. Then we got a letter from the post office advising everyone that it was officially a road. A road, to me, suggests something rural and something a little longer than a block, but a road it is, although much of the mail we get is still addressed to an avenue.

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