What does ‘crenulated’ mean?

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: crenulated….

I was flipping through an old copy of the New Yorker before passing it along to a friend (I could never throw out a magazine with such fine writing) when I encountered a story I’d missed. Written by John Lahr and headlined Walking Tall, it was a profile of British actor Janet McTeer (pictured above) who stands at six feet one. I’d never heard of her but, after reading this profile, I’ll be checking out some of the movies she’s been in. (The most famous is Alfred Nobbs in which she plays Hubert Page.)

I love reading about actors — their work seems so mysterious to me — and this story is both insightful and beautifully written. Furthermore, it gave me my word of the week, crenulated. Here is how Lahr used it:

At the launching spot, she slipped the kayaks into the murk of the estuary water, which meandered under a bridge and out into the crenulated shoreline of Casco Bay. 

I’d never heard the adjective before but my dictionary tells me it means: having a margin or contour with shallow, usually rounded notches and projections; finely notched or scalloped. I had a hard time visualizing that until I encountered another dictionary description that suggested a crenulated leaf. I know what those look like! 

The etymology of the word is interesting. It comes from the Latin crenella as a diminutive of crena (literally a notch or serration). The word also appears in Old French as cren (a notch) or crener (to notch). The word shares its origins with the common English word cranny, meaning “a small opening, as in a wall or rock face; a crevice”.