Timber, temples, and “ligging” a hedge

A few short passages from The Shining Levels: The Story of a Man Who Went Back to Nature, John Wyatt’s classic memoir of his time working in England’s Lake District. First, on how to “lig” a hedge, which the OED says is an old – and now dialectal – word for lie. (See etymology of lie.)

It was a pleasure to watch Joe ‘lig’ a hedge; for the work was his pride and joy. Hedges around where we were are a wild mixture of hawthorn, hazel, ash and holly. Laying a hedge is necessary when it grows too tall and shows gaps. Bough undergrowth is cut away, leaving the bare upright stems which are then cut only part-way through near the butt, then pulled over and layed [sic] in neat lines, occasionally being pinned firm with hazel stakes. The tools for the job are a pair of leather hedging mitts, one very sharp bill-hook, and a stone to whet it with at regular intervals.

Later one evening Wyatt and a friend are smearing a homemade concoction on tree trunks in order to attract moths for study. The substance is “a mixture of demerara sugar, a drop of ale, treacle, and a good lacing of rum”; the dialogue is similarly rich:

When we reached the first tree, George pulled the lid off his jar, and said, ‘By gow, lad, this smells about ten ‘orse power!’ He dipped in his spatula and tasted it. ‘And it tastes better than t’best Cumberland rum-butter!’

I didn’t believe it, so had to try it myself.

‘Th’art reet!’ I agreed.

Wyatt sought to convey his sense of the everyday sublime while living and working in the woods, surrounded as he was by so much natural beauty. Here, he adds a short and unexpected etymological note:

The word ‘temple’ comes from the root ‘tem’, to cut – a forest clearing. The inspiration of those who made civilization’s first temples and churches all over the world, was the forest. You can see it in the pillars, the arched roofs, the decorated ceilings. For the gods walk in the forest.

The American Heritage Dictionary 5th edition, in its appendix of Proto-Indo-European roots, says *tem- had a suffixed form *tem-lo- from which we get “Latin templum, temple, shrine, open place for observation (augury term < ‘place reserved or cut out’), small piece of timber.” It’s a gratifying connection.

8 Responses to Timber, temples, and “ligging” a hedge

  1. John Cowan says:

    It’s also gratifying that a non-etymologist actually got it right instead of copying what every fule kno.

  2. I’m reminded of a religious song I know (“This Beautiful Earth” by Coleman and Bartle) that contains the following lyrics: “We need to take the time to look around / We need to take the time to sit down / And drink in the presence of God through Creation / In a forest cathedral with a mountain its spire.”

    I love the idea of measuring smell intensity in horsepower. I expect I can guess the etymology of that one.

    (BTW, this is my first comment anywhere since discarding “Flesh-eating Dragon” as a commenting name.)

  3. […] including HIttite and Tocharian, but not the ancestor of Hebrew.  I follow several language blogs, and today one of them posted a bit about the etymology of the word temple: […]

  4. Stan says:

    John: Indeed. I’d been enjoying the book a lot when I came to that line, so was extra pleased when I looked up the etymology and found that he got it right.

    Adrian: A very apt lyric. I’ve come across the analogy before of forests described as cathedrals, but not until Wyatt had I seen it discussed explicitly (unless I’ve forgotten something, which is always a possibility). Delighted to welcome you here under your new commenting name.

  5. wisewebwoman says:

    Woo. I was writing a few pages on the art of cabinet making, furniture crafting, last night so this post of yours on tem struck a chord. Out here at the edge there are many old hand crafted tables, cabinets, etc., where the natural curvature of the tree is honoured.
    Lig and Tem. Thanks!

  6. Shaun Downey says:

    Never heard of ligging in that sense.The meaning that springs to ind is in the sense of getting into (celebrity) parties etc and taing advantage of free drink and grub

    • Stan says:

      Shaun: That’s the only way I’d seen the word used before I read Wyatt’s book. I don’t think the lig = dialectal lie sense is at all common.

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