*Landmarks*, by Robert Macfarlane

I enjoyed many passages in this book, here was my favorite:

As well as these untranslatable terms, I have gathered synonyms — especially those that bring new energies to familiar phenomena.  The variant English terms for ‘icicle’ — aquabob (Kent), clinkerbell and daggler (Wessex), cancervell (Exmoor), ickle (Yorkshire), tankle (Durham), shuckle (Cambria) — form a tinkling poem of their own.  In Northamptonshire dialect ‘to thaw’ is to ungive.  The beauty of this variant I find hard to articulate, but it surely has to do with the paradox of thaw figured as restraint or retention, and the wintry notion that cold, frost and snow might themselves be a form of gift — an addition to the landscape that will in time be subtracted by warmth.

Also of note is the discussion of how places names in Gaelic (and many other languages and dialects) are becoming unintelligible, even if much of Gaelic is surviving.  And so:

The nuances observed by specialized vocabularies are evaporating from common usage, burnt off by capital, apathy and urbanization.  The terrain beyond the city fringe has become progressively more understood in terms of large generic units (‘field’, ‘hill’, ‘valley’, ‘wood’).  It has become a blandscape…It is not, on the whole, that natural phenomena and entities themselves are disappearing, rather that there are fewer people able to name them, and that once they go unnamed they go to some degree unseen.

Definitely recommended, buy it here.


Anyone who appreciates British landscapes will probably appreciate this book. Also available in audio at Audible.com read by Roy McMillan who also reads a wonderful -- refusal to say 'the best', which is a descriptive phrase that has no place in any sophisticated critical review … of anything -- audio of Don Quixote.

I always reach for Macfarlane's books with enthusiasm but then struggle to finish them. There is something bloodless and distant in his writing even though he clearly loves the landscapes he writes about. The best parts are when he leaves behind whatever eccentric companions he has and wanders off alone, describing mystery and solitary reveries.

I do dislike confusion of meadow with pasture, or woodland with Forest.

I wonder what were the specific examples of disappearing specialized vocabulary Macfarlane had in mind. These would be nice examples, but are they really disappearing?

"even if much of Gaelic is surviving": what a wonderful example of Gaelic-speaker's English. Was that a fluke or a subtlety?

I hate it when nuances get burnt off by capital!

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