22 September 2008

Berms and bulbs

The geothermal pipes were a bit too close to the surface in places, so a load of topsoil was delivered while I was away to cover it up sufficiently. This man-made heap is known as a berm over here: a word I've never heard before. I checked the Oxford English Dictionary just now and it doesn't seem to have caught up with this use either. It talks about a berm as a terrace or flat piece of land next to a fortification or river and comes up with an American use of the word in the phrase berm-bank, which is the bank opposite the tow-path of a canal, but doesn't mention a berm as a simple mound of earth.

So, anyway, thanks to the geothermal system I now have a whole new bed to fill with plants (and to keep clear of weeds. Sigh.). I started on it yesterday with my mother-in-law and we planted 100 spring-flowering bulbs (tulips, daffodils, freesias and hyacinths). Longer-term I plan on making it a bed full of native flowers that will attract butterflies and hummingbirds.


Esther Montgomery said...

Sometimes, I feel a bit overwhelmed visiting here. You are doing such interesting things on such a very big scale - it's daunting as well as rivetting, following the progress.

Thanks for the word. I think I shall drop it into conversations with my mother-in-law.

"Do you think you could do with a berm over here?"

"I was walking along the berm . . . "

I think Peter Sellars would have liked it too.

Esther Montgomery

Esther Montgomery said...

Oh, and a P,S.

One of the established dictionaries (Chambers . . . ?) is planning to drop certain, supposedly under-used, words to make space on its pages for new ones.

Various people like Andrew Motion and Stephen Fry have taken one of these endangered words each and have pledged to use it often in public so it will be 'saved'. (Andrew Motion's word is 'skirr' . . . the noise made by birds' wings.)

I think I'll have a parallel campaign to get 'berm' more widely used.

There was a berm of cushions on the sofa.

Make a dip in your berm of flour and break an egg into it . . .


Amanda said...

Thanks for alerting me to that campaign, Esther (and welcome back, by the way!). The Times has an article all about it (which uses copious examples of the endangered words). Stephen Fry's word is 'fubsy' (which means 'fat and squat', according to the OED).

Malisons on Collins's niddering caducity is all I can say.

Esther Montgomery said...

And 'fubsy' fits Stephen Fry very well, wouldn't you say?

I tend to think the less freqently a word is used, the more likely it is someone will need to look it up to find out what it means.


Anonymous said...

I think it might be a Bund, not a Berm after all.
My favourite endangered word is embrangle.