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Off topic: Garden versus yard
Thread poster: Morten Olesen

Morten Olesen
Local time: 02:43
English to Danish
Mar 6, 2004

Can anyone explain why in America the word "yard" is used to describe a plot of land surrounding a house in an urban area?
And a small stone/pebble is sometimes a 'rock' in the US - the Rock of Gibraltar is not something you throw into a pond!?
Can't we persuade the Americans to stop doing that.....

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Lesley Clarke  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:43
Spanish to English
Haven't a clue but... Mar 7, 2004

Your pseudonym is purrfect for the question.
Sorry, couldn't resist.

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jmadsen  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:43
Yard = enclosure Mar 7, 2004

According to Webster's, the word "yard" in this particular sense stems from the old English word geard, meaning enclosure.
As a unit of measure, the word stems from the old English word gyrd, meaning twig or stick.
Etymology explains a lot.

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Carley Hydusik  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:43
Russian to English
+ ...
I can try, at least for the yard... Mar 7, 2004

Hi moggy!

Sorry we frustrate you, but here's my explanation for "yard" versus "garden": When I hear the word "garden", I think it is a plot of land that has vegetables, flowers or plants growing in it, and that they were planted there on purpose. For me, a garden is a piece of land delimited by something such as a fence (or even just grass), and the garden grows inside it. The American yard, however, just implies grass around the house. Maybe trees and flowers too, but they are not planted all together in one place.

Now, as to rocks versus pebbles, I don't know... no great explanation for that one! We just say it that way. But we also say pebbles and stones. Hm... upon reflection, to me pebbles are small and round, stones might be a bit bigger, and a rock could be of varying size and shape, and might have rough edges. People throw rocks in protest, they don't throw nice round pebbles. The Rock of Gibraltar also isn't smooth...

I hope that helps!

[Edited at 2004-03-07 10:47]

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Sheila Hardie  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:43
Partial member
Catalan to English
+ ...
garden vs yard Mar 7, 2004

I’ve often wondered myself why the Americans use the word ‘yard’ to describe what we British would call a ‘garden’. When I think of a yard, I imagine an enclosed area covered in concrete or stones and surrounded by buildings (e.g a builder's yard, a ship yard etc.), not a green, grassy area with flowers and vegetables. I had a look in a few etymological dictionaries to see what I could find but still haven’t been able to find out why the North Americans use ‘yard’ and the British prefer ‘garden’. It appears that the two words are related – both deriving from the Old English ‘geard’ = enclosure, yard, which in turn comes from the Latin word ‘hortus’ = garden. See below for more details.

Maybe the word was taken across to American by British settlers at a time (and from a part of the UK) when the word ‘yard’ was also used to describe a grassy or vegetable covered plot of land in Britain? Later, the meaning of ‘yard’ might have changed in the UK, being superseded by ‘garden’, with ‘yard’ being used to describe a paved area adjacent to buildings. Just an idea. I’d love to know the real origins.


Main Entry: 1yard
Pronunciation: 'yärd
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Old English geard enclosure, yard; akin to Old High German gart enclosure, Latin hortus garden
1 a : a small usually walled and often paved area open to the sky and adjacent to a building : COURT b : the grounds of a building or group of buildings
2 : the grounds immediately surrounding a house that are usually covered with grass
3 a : an enclosure for livestock (as poultry) b (1) : an area with its buildings and facilities set aside for a particular business or activity (2) : an assembly or storage area c : a system of tracks for storage and maintenance of cars and making up trains
4 : a locality in a forest where deer herd in winter

It looks like some of the roots of "garden" and "yard" are the same:

[OE. yard, yerd, AS. geard; akin to OFries. garda garden, OS. gardo garden, gard yard, D. gaard garden, G. garten, OHG. garto garden, gari inclosure, Icel. gar[eth]r yard, house, Sw. g[*a]rd, Dan. gaard, Goth. gards a house, garda sheepfold, . . . .]

yard (1) - "ground around a house," O.E. geard "enclosure, garden, court, house, yard," from P.Gmc. *garda, from PIE *gharto-. Related to garden. M.E. yerd "yard-land" was a measure of about 30 acres.
yard (2) - "measure of length," O.E. gerd (Mercian), gierd (W.Saxon) "rod, stick, measure of length," from W.Gmc. *gazdijo, from P.Gmc. *gazdaz "stick, rod." In O.E. it was originally a land measure of roughly 5 meters (a length later called rod, pole or perch). Modern measure of "three feet" is 14c. Slang meaning "one hundred dollars" first attested 1926. Yardstick is 1816. The nautical yard-arm retains the original sense of "stick." Yardbird "convict" is 1956, from the notion of prison yards; earlier it meant "basic trainee" (World War II armed forces slang).

gird - O.E. gyrdan "put a belt or girdle around," from P.Gmc. *gurthjanan (cf. O.N. gyr›a, O.Fris. gerda, O.H.G. gurtan, Ger. Gürten). Related to O.E. geard "hedge, enclosure" (see yard). Girder "main beam that carries flooring" is first attested 1611.
Main Entry: gar·den
Pronunciation: 'gär-d&n
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English gardin, from Old North French, of Germanic origin; akin to Old High German gart enclosure -- more at YARD
Date: 13th century
1 a : a plot of ground where herbs, fruits, flowers, or vegetables are cultivated b : a rich well-cultivated region c : a container (as a window box) planted with usually a variety of small plants
2 a : a public recreation area or park usually ornamented with plants and trees b : an open-air eating or drinking place c : a large hall for public entertainment
- gar·den·ful /-"ful/ noun

yard1 [j??d]
1 a unit of length equal to 3 feet and defined in 1963 as exactly 0.9144 metre
Abbrev.: yd
2 a cylindrical wooden or hollow metal spar, tapered at the ends, slung from a mast of a square-rigged or lateen-rigged vessel and used for suspending a sail
3 short for: yardstick [2][ETYMOLOGY: Old English gierd rod, twig; related to Old Frisian jerde, Old Saxon gerdia, Old High German gertia, Old Norse gaddr]
yard2 [j??d]
1 a piece of enclosed ground, usually either paved or laid with concrete and often adjoining or surrounded by a building or buildings
a an enclosed or open area used for some commercial activity, for storage, etc.
example: a railway yard
b (in combination)
example: a brickyard
example: a shipyard
3 a U.S. and Canadian word for: garden [1]
4 an area having a network of railway tracks and sidings, used for storing rolling stock, making up trains, etc.
5 (U.S. and Canadian) the winter pasture of deer, moose, and similar animals
6 (Austral. and N.Z.) an enclosed area used to draw off part of a herd, etc.
7 (New Zealand)
short for: saleyard, stockyardverb [transitive]
8 to draft (animals), esp. to a saleyard[ETYMOLOGY: Old English geard; related to Old Saxon gard, Old High German gart, Old Norse garthr yard, Gothic gards house, Old Slavonic gradu town, castle, Albanian garth hedge]

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Sheila Hardie  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:43
Partial member
Catalan to English
+ ...
yard Mar 7, 2004

I've just found another possible explanation!

A Word from ...
A Word about Gardening

When you are next in your garden or backyard creating your own little flowery paradise, you may be using implements that were named in English more than a thousand years ago.

The words ‘horticulture’ and ‘garden’ are, however, relatively new additions to the English language, as the concept of managing land to create beauty rather than food only emerged in the Middle Ages.

‘Garden’ came into the language in the 14th century from Old Northern French gardin, itself a variation of Old French jardin (still used in modern French), which probably has a German origin. ‘Horticulture’ is not recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary until 1678. This word for the art or science of cultivating gardens comes from the Latin hortus, meaning garden, and cultura, meaning growing or cultivation.

***The 17th century also saw the creation in American-English of the idea of a ‘backyard’, first recorded in Suffolk, Mass, in 1659. ‘Yard’, however, is one of the oldest words in the English language. It came in around 300 AD as geard ‘building, home, region’, from a Germanic word that is related to ‘garden’ and ‘orchard’. In fact, it is connected to a range of words with the general meaning of ‘enclosure’ that can be seen as far away as the Russian cities of Petrograd and Novgorod , the endings of which come from this group.***

Here are some more horticultural words with their first recorded use in the Oxford English Dictionary in brackets.

Shears (c.725) were originally synonymous with scissors, and in some places in Britain still are. The word’s origin is from a Germanic word meaning divide or shave.

Spade (c. 725) was spadu or spada in Old English, another word of Germanic origin. The expression ‘to call a spade a spade’, meaning to speak bluntly, is based on a mistranslation. Plutarch in his Apophthegmata wrote originally of a trough, basin, or bowl, but Erasmus translated the word wrongly, confusing it with another related to the verb ‘to dig’.

Rake (c. 725) came into Old English as raca or racu, from an Old Norse word meaning to scrape or shave.

Seed (c. 825) appears first as sæd and is of Germanic origin, related to the verb ‘to sow’.

Fork (c.1000) is from an Old English word, forca, based on the Latin furca meaning forked stick. The use of the word in English was extended by the influence of the Normans, whose word was furke.

Flower (1225) came into Middle English as ‘flour’, from the Old French flour or flor, in turn from Latin flos or flor. The flour that is used to make bread makes use of flower in the sense ‘the best part,’ and originally meant ‘the finest quality of ground wheat’.

Hoe (1284) comes from Old French houe, in turn from a German word related to the verb ‘to hew’. It was spelled with a ‘w’ until the middle of the 18th century.

Shed (1481) has its origin in the English word shade, which is of Germanic origin.

Ha Ha(1712): this 18th-century garden feature consisted of a trench, the inner side perpendicular and faced with stone, the outer sloping and turfed, that was intended to allow the landowner an uninterrupted view of the countryside. It came from the French word haha ‘an obstacle interrupting one's way sharply and disagreeably, a ditch behind an opening in a wall at the bottom of an alley or walk’. According to French etymologists the ha! is an exclamation of surprise – or could it be fear?

Lawn (1733): ‘Lawn is a great Plain in a Park, or a spacious Plain adjoining to a noble Seat... As to the Situation of a Lawn, it will be best in the Front of the House, and to lie open to the neighbouring Country and not pent up with Trees.’ This was the definition of ‘lawn’ in Miller’s Gardener’s Dictionary of 1733, and was also cited as the first recorded use of the word in that sense in the Oxford English Dictionary. But the word had a much older use as a glade or open area in a wood; it originally comes from a northern British dialect word laund, and from the Old French launde ‘wooded district, heath’, itself of Celtic origin. Where there is a lawn it has to be mown. The lawn-mower was first mentioned in print in 1875, but the verb ‘to mow’ is from the 10th-century word máwan, which has the same German origins as ‘meadow’.

Gazebo (1752): etymologists are not quite sure of the origin of this word describing a decorative building in a garden. Some feel it may be the result of a scholarly joke - a humorous allusion to the word ‘gaze’, imitating the Latin future tense, just as the basin used in the Catholic mass is a ‘lavabo’, meaning ‘I shall wash’. Others think it may come from an unknown oriental word.

Trowel (1796) was originally truel, a 14th-century word for a tool used by masons and plasterers to mould cement. It came from the Old French truele, from the Latin trulla, meaning stirring-spoon. The implement was adapted and used in the garden, and it was first mentioned in a gardening context at the end of the 18th century.

Patio (1828) is a Spanish word. A patio was originally an inner court, open to the sky, in a Spanish or Spanish-American house. Outside Spain it refers to a courtyard or paved area adjoining a house.

Allotment (1674) is a word that has changed very little over time from its original sense of a small plot of land let for a particular purpose, usually to country labourers by their overlords. The word now has a specific meaning in modern British parlance. These days an allotment refers almost exclusively to land let by local authorities to individuals or ‘allotment associations’ for the cultivation of vegetables and flowers. While allotments are still available to country dwellers, they are perhaps more commonly associated with towns and cities, and are not immune to the evils of the big city. According to the Times newspaper of 14 Aug 1917: ‘Holders of municipal allotments claim for loss by malicious damage, the hearts of 700 cabbages having been cut out.’

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