LANDMARKS by Robert Macfarlane


I have just, really just, begun this book and am so knocked out that I am having a difficult time getting through the first chapter, which acts as a sort of introduction. This book is about landscape and language, how each shapes the other. And how this lexical specificity can in turn shape our understanding and attention toward landscape. He gives us local words –

smeuse – a Sussex dialect noun for ‘the gap in the base of a hedge made by the regular passage of a small animal’

zwer – the sound made by a covey of partridges taking flight

And he gives us lost words, like this list of words culled from the most recent edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary –

acorn, adder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture, and willow

And some words that took their place in the dictionary –

attachment, block-graph, blog, broadband, bullet-point, celebrity, chatroom, committee, cut-and-paste, MP3 player, and voice-mail

I cringe at what is being lost. To be able to articulate a thing, gives us the opportunity to pay attention to it. Not naming as a way of owning, but naming as a way of recognizing. As language can shape the way we perceive a thing, it can also shape our ability to perceive it. Oh my, and I have barely read 10 pages. I think I am in trouble…

12 comments on “LANDMARKS by Robert Macfarlane”

  1. …and it happens yet again. I have Robert McFarlane’s book, The Lost Words: A Spell Book, on reserve at the library. We are under the same spell somehow.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I just picked up this book at the library. It is 11 x 15 and so was on a special shelf for reserved items. Beautiful watercolor illustrations. I let it fall open in my hands, and there was a full two-page illustration to accompany the poem/spell for the word bluebell. A great swath of brilliant bluish-lavender across which a fox is walking & over which a great owl is flying. That color of a field of bluebells!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I too made a note to myself to look for a copy of Lost Words by Robert McFarlane. I had never heard of him. I read about the book on brainpickings. It’s a beautifully illustrated children’s book that would make a wonderful gift for folks of all ages.

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    1. Surprises, indeed! JNaz, I love the words smeuse and zwer. They cry out for a poem. I don’t mind using a word everyone will need to look up because, to me, that is such a pleasure.

      This is nothing to do with anything, but I’ve been reminded of coming across a hand-lettered sign posted on a wooden bridge in the countryside of England that read, “HAVE YOU LOST A GUINEA PIG?” 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Teri, I love this mysterious sign. There may be a poem in that also. And yes, to ‘nothing to do with anything’…

        Liked by 1 person

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