Neck of the Woods

A common term that always puzzled me is “Neck of the woods,” meaning a certain region or neighborhood. It’s one of those phrases we hear so often that we never consider how fundamentally weird they are. It strikes the ear in an odd way and doesn’t seem to really denote what it means.

In researching the etymology of the phrase, I found out some interesting things that puts it in a little better perspective. While there’s no absolute certainty which derivation is the correct one, these are the ones that make the most sense.

“Neck” had been used in English since around 1555 to describe a narrow strip of land, usually surrounded by water, based on its resemblance to the neck of an animal. Early American colonists came up with the word “neck” to describe a narrow stand of woods or a settlement located in a particular part of the woods. In a country then largely covered by forests, your “neck of the woods” was your home, the first American neighborhood. These early colonist also came up with words such as, “branch,” “fork,” “hollow,” “gap,” “flat” and other descriptive terms to denote various locations.

The theory I like the best, however, is that the phrase ‘my neck’ could have derived from the German ‘meine ecke’ which would translate as ‘my corner’. Since The English language is such a borrower of words and phrases from other languages, it certainly is a possibility. And the fact that phonetically it sounds like “my neck”, and that it means the same thing as the English term, I think it’s very possible that this could be correct.

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