Sunday, November 9, 2008

Synonyms for oolites ...

Iain Ferris muses: "I was interested to note that in Crickley Hill Man's recent posting on the geological background of the site the origins and meaning of the word 'gull' were explained. This was one of many esoteric words unique to the vocabulary of all those digging on the hill and made me remember two other, less precise terms used to describe deposits and fills. The gulls were usually backfilled with a deposit formed of often-loose tiny pellets of rounded limestone-a dozen or so of which would comfortably just cover the area of a fingernail-which we all called 'chipples'. These also occurred in small numbers in other features. The presence of chipples often also was an indicator that you were getting towards the true edge of a posthole during its excavation. Sometimes the sides of gulls were formed by a type of yellow-grey, decayed, spongy limestone concretion-presumably again resulting from water erosion and redeposition-that was known generally as 'meringue'. Do these terms ring any bells with Crickley Hill Man and his dedicated readers?"

I was just humming and hahing over what to write this morning when Iain saved me the trouble by sending in these observations: I certainly remember all three words, 'gull', 'chipple' and 'meringue' being employed.   

I've found a passage in 'Fundamentals of Biogeography' by Richard Huggett (Routledge 2003) "Many cliffs are dissected by wide vertical joints that form open clefts or passageways. In Britain such widened joints are called gulls or wents which are terms used by quarrymen." 

I am not an etymologist, but wonder whether the genesis of 'gull' is a simple shortening of gully to express a related physical manifestation. Comfort for this suggestion may come from Volume XCIX of the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London 1944: "The word 'gull' is an old term meaning chasm or gully and it has long been applied by quarrymen to widened fissures". Also, from the proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society 1942: "Fitton recorded that the solution fissures in the Portland stone as Hazeley in Oxfordshire were called 'gulls' by the quarrymen (1836, Trans. Geol. Soc. (2) iv, 276)."

Chipples appears to be uniquely used at Crickley in a geological context: in a less elevated tone than what is written above on gulls, the word appears in the Urban Dictionary to mean chocolate covered nipples - I am not making this up - and bizarrely, in another food related use in a string starting with someone suggesting that it is a term used, for, of all things, spring onions (presumably a diminutive of the Italian for onions 'cipolle', thence 'cipolline').  Lastly, some people seem to use the word for diminutive chips of the French fry variety. Hmm. Curious and unwelcome visions begin to appear in Crickley Hill Man's mind.

Meringue seems straightforward by comparison, I am delighted to say, and comes from the close resemblance of the concretion of dissolved rock to the food.

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