What’s a ‘bawn’?

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: bawn

When I read the book The Innocents by Newfoundland writer Michael Crummey, I sometimes felt as though I was reading a work written simultaneously in two languages. So many interesting and unfamiliar words.

Another one I uncovered was the noun bawn. Here is how Crummy used it:

She stayed close to the bawn all day with an eye on the weather piling the fish into yaffles against a shower of rain or the sear of too much sun.

bawn is an enclosure — usually of mud or stone — about a farmhouse or castle in Ireland. It comes from the Irish Gaelic word badhún, meaning enclosure or bulwark. The Gaelic word for “cow” is  and its plural is ba and the one for “stronghold, enclosure” is dún.

The original purpose of bawns was to protect cattle from attack. They included trenches that were often strengthened with stakes or hedges. Over time, these were gradually replaced by walls. The name then was used for the walls that were built around tower houses.

The photo at the top of this post shows Ross Castle in County Kerry, Ireland, with its bawn surrounding the building.

And in case you were wondering, the word yaffle typically means a green parrot. But, here, it is a Newfoundland term used to describe an armload of sticks or fish.

An earlier version of this post first appeared on my blog on Nov. 13/29.

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