learn (v.) – Old English ‘leornian’, ‘to get knowledge, to be cultivated’. From the Proto-Germanic, ‘liznojan’, ‘to follow a track’.
Robert Macfarlane seems to be the closest we have in Britain to an Innuit: not only does he actively seek out cold, featureless, uninhabited space, but he also has about twenty different words for snow. Reading his books feels like following him in a blizzard of fresh vocabulary. Recently, in his Old Ways, I’ve learnt to avoid three different types of bog: boglach (general boggy areas), blar (flat areas of a moor that can be boggy) and, the most dangerous of all, the breunlach (sucking bog that is disguised by the alluringly bright green grass that covers it). All good words to know, I thought. Even in Willesden Green.
But it was the end of his book – his acknowledgements – I was really taken with. He refers to…
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