Posted by James Briggs on January 11, 2004
In Reply to: Neck of the woods. posted by masakim on January 10, 2004
: : : : : My "neck of the woods". Why is it a neck??
: : : : Until someone else can provide a more complete and definitive answer, try this one. "Neck" was once a common geographical term, referring, I imagine, to some configuration resembling a neck. In the case of a woods, along the edges of the woods there might be several narrowing projections or salients, bulges or peninsulae of a sort. "My neck of the woods" would be one such bulge. However, I can't really explain such terms as "Penn's neck" or "Dutch neck," both of which refer to communities in my area. Today there is nothing neck-like about them; but perhaps there once was. (The next PF will give more and better information.) SS
: : : Or you may prefer the definition in OED Online: neck n.1, 7b. orig U.S. A narrow stretch of wood, pastures, ice, etc. Now usually in neck of the woods: a settlement in wooded country, or a small or remotely situated community. . . in this neck of the woods: in the vicinity, around here .....
: : I've posted this before, but it seems worth repeating:
: : Neck: If you are speaking about where you live you might say "in my neck of the woods". Why "neck"? This is an example of a Fossil word in which an old meaning has been preserved in only one or two special sayings. Short shrift is another. In the case of neck the ancestor words in Old Breton (cnoch) and Old High German (hnack) both had a meaning of "hill" or "summit". This sense has been lost in all other uses of the word neck.
: : The origin is older than the US of A.
: ... In nature, *neck* has referred to any narrow strip of water, ice or trees. So, originally, *neck of the woods* meant a stretch of woodland.
: Sometime in the first half of the 19th century, people started referring to the settlements in remote wooded areas as a particular *neck of the woods*. The first print evidence of the expression is in 1839: "In this neck of the woods" (*Sprit of Times* 15 June 175/2, 1839). In a book of Americanisms, De Vere writes about the American pioneer: "He will. . .find his neighborhood designated as a *neck of the woods*, that being the name applied to any settlement made in the well-wooded parts of the South-west especially" (*Americanisms: The English of the New World*, 1871).
: Today, the expression is alive and well in almost every *neck of the woods*, though it no longer solely indicates a remote settlement. *Neck of the woods* now refers to any neighborhood, area or region. It is sometimes shortened to *neck* as in Wainright's *Devil you Don't*: "In this neck, I say what. I also say when."
: From ?The Mavens? Word of the Day? (November 29, 1999)
The concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology states:
"Neck OE (in various uses from the 14thC)". These include the meanings from Old Breton and Old German origins I mentioned earlier. It may be that the saying was popularised in the first half of the 19thC, but the origin is much older.