If You Go Down To The Woods Today - Volume 1 Issue 5

Isn’t language beautiful?  The different sounds, pronunciations and subtle differences in meanings that make up the sounds of the world according to sapiens. 

The language of the woods is no different. This week we’ll look at some pretty strange words and what they mean. 

Language of the Woods

As we saw from last week’s issue the clearance of the wild wood started in Somerset at around 4500BC.  That’s silviculture that has hardly changed for over 6,500 years.  The only real difference is the material we make our tools from; Stone to bronze- bronze to iron – iron to steel- steel to engines.  That’s it.  Obviously, laws change here and there but the actual clearance is unchanged.

Let’s look at part of a message I typed to a fellow wood speaker last week.

“There’s loads of material at the coupe that can be used as the zails of the hurdle and the materials around the goyle can be used as weavers”

 Sounds odd, doesn’t it?  What I am saying is.

“There’s loads of material in the area that I am cutting back to stubs that can be used as straight uprights of the woven fence and the materials around the stream with a high bank that is in Somerset can be used as the horizontal parts of the woven fence.”

The language is peculiar to the woodland industry and I believe that it sounds stunning.

Below, in no particular order, I’m going to list a number of words that I can use with fellow woods folk up and down Britain and they will know exactly what I am talking about. I hope you will recognise some too.

Coppice or Copse

An area of wooded land that is worked in rotation to harvest woody materials.


The stump or clump of stumps of a tree or shrub from which new growth will grow.


A forked stick used to push trees or branches that are hung up off so they will fall to the ground.  Also a forked stick used to hold up a branch or tree that will snap or crack if no support is offered.

Zale or Zail

The best, straight material used in the uprights of the wattle fence. Can be hazel, ash or elm.


A riving tool used to split hazel rods for fencing and create shingles for roofing from larger logs.


A large club or hammer made from one piece of timber, usually ash.


A large mallet made with the head from elm and a metal handle that has a ring attached.  The ring stops the elm from splitting. 


Forming a new tree from bending a rod from a stool and staking it in the ground.


The teeth of a rake.


The space created in wood behind the saw by setting the teeth. 


The removal of the branches of a tree once it is safely on the ground.

There, clear as mud?  A bizarre set of words I am sure you’ll agree?  However, let’s think about this.  The words may sound strange to us now but the language of the art of coppicing started over 6,500 years ago.  I have looked at the etymology for many of the words we use in the woods and they are simply not known or are listed as archaic.  This, to me as a woody history geek, is fascinating.  Are we using the language of our Neolithic ancestors?

Next week we are going to looking at the main players within the wood.  I just wanted to acknowledge that sometimes I may use language that you don’t understand.  Firstly, I apologise in advance.  Secondly, if I do, please ask me what I meant.  That goes for anything else that I discuss with you. Ask me.

So, The Next Time You Are Out And About…

…listen to the places you visit, the harbour, butchers, pub, old markets, especially city ones.  What are they saying?  How are they saying it?  Do you understand the people using the language?  What industry specific language do you use?  Where does it come from?

Until next time.