Weird Words and Weird Brains

Posted: October 18th, 2022 under the writing life.
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Horngard II is moving along, and today it handed me something unexpected.   Two Marshals have arrived at their home grange (a senior Marshal and one in the first year of being a Marshal, when they work under supervision just in case…) with four dead bodies and an extra four horses.  They didn’t kill them.  They saw an attempted armed robbery by a group of horse thieves; the horse owner (they think) killed all four thieves; the Marshals came to investigate and the horse owner (not of the 4 horses but others) was glad to have the Marshals take away the bodies and the thieves’ horses, because that horse owner was taking some horses to a sale.  (Whew…got through that with no spoilers for Horngard I.)  The Marshals disappear from Horngard I at that point, but in Horngard II they have other tasks.

Firstly, there are the four bodies.  Their grange is in a smallish town (but large enough to have a town government, an inn or two, and the grange) so they hand off the bodies (since they aren’t local citizens or Girdish) to the town for burial…in the “scraw land.”  That word popped into my head as I was visualizing the conversation between Marshals and the town judicar.    I knew it was “where we bury criminals, people with no family or prestige.”  Very clear, very definite: scraw land.  I knew I’d seen scraw somewhere, sometime, but nothing definite helped me, so I did an internet search for its meaning.  Scraw has several closely related meanings:  a piece of turf (like the stuff peeled up for laying a lawn down somewhere, only just pieces) , that might be dried for fuel, or placed on a roof under thatching for additional waterproofness, or more specifically “a sod from the surface of a peat bog…”  

What my backbrain had dragged up from past reading, internet stuff, TV stuff was “bog burials.”   Not all bog burials were criminals, but it’s thought some definitely were.  The connection to “scraw land” I still don’t remember, but wow, the backbrain was certainly doing a good job of giving me an old word, a traditional-sounding word (as it actually is a traditional word) for “the land where you get scraw (for whatever use you want to make of the sod off the top of boggy ground)  and thus the place you’d also bury criminals.  I am astounded (and grateful…backbrain, you’re the best.)  Notice that this was not focused research…I didn’t go looking for a word for “where you bury criminals”, the backbrain just went digging in its vocabulary stacks and handed me a goodie.

At the same time, I’m having a heckuva time remembering a word I’ve known, and used, for years (caltrop) and have had to back-search for it repeatedly.  It’s not that uncommon (though not *really* common, like “snake” or “bacon”) and should not give me any trouble at all, but it can slide right out of my mind within two minutes of looking it up, and it’s really hard to retrieve, much of the time.  I’ve finally tied it to Caltrans so I have the whole first syllable with the crucial “tr” after it.   Yet there, rising to the top of my mental swamp, so to speak, was “scraw.”  I don’t think I’ve ever *used* “scraw” before in any of my writing.

If anyone wants some bog mummies in Paksworld, there they are, not a mile from a grange, in the scraw land.  A low, damp, place of coarse grass and moss and rushes, reasonably close to the South Trade Road that once ran along the foot of the Dwarfmounts  (north side) from sortakinda near the Eastern Ocean to Corner (Fintha, south of Fin Panir, where the South Trade Road turns north.  Why there?  Because it doesn’t have to cross as much scraw land that bogs trade wagons down.  The South Trade Road now runs from Halveric House in southern Lyonya west to Brewersbridge in SE Tsaia then on to Fiveway, where it crosses the N/S road from Aarenis to Verella to (eventually) Arcolin’s holding in northern Tsaia.


  • Comment by Caryn — October 18, 2022 @ 10:36 am


    Very cool.

    “Don’t bury me in the scraw lands, Mother….”

  • Comment by Duncan — October 18, 2022 @ 1:56 pm


    from free wiki
    A caltrop (also known as caltrap, galtrop, cheval trap, galthrap,[1] galtrap, calthrop, jackrock or crow’s foot[2][3]) is an area denial weapon made up of two or more sharp nails or spines arranged in such a manner that one of them always points upward from a stable base (for example, a tetrahedron). Historically, caltrops were part of defences that served to slow the advance of troops, especially horses, chariots, and war elephants, and were particularly effective against the soft feet of camels.[4] In modern times, caltrops are effective when used against wheeled vehicles with pneumatic tires.

  • Comment by Jace — October 19, 2022 @ 8:20 am


    Looks like the jacks game my sisters used to play back in the day. And yes, they hurt like blazes when you stepped on them barefoot. Don’t ask me how I know.

  • Comment by elizabeth — October 19, 2022 @ 8:57 am


    Duncan: I’m not sure why you decided to post the definition of “caltrop” since I had clearly stated it was a word I knew and had used and still use, but had (temporarily) lost to the head injury. I would guess a lot of readers here already knew it as well.

    I would prefer that when you feel the need to post definitions, you include the *link* to the source you’re citing, and not long definitions themselves. Keep it short; people can then link to the source if they want more.

  • Comment by elizabeth — October 19, 2022 @ 9:05 am


    Jace: Very similar, though “game” jacks have six points and usually (these days anyway; I think I remember some all-pointy jacks from childhood) four are blunted and only two are pointy. I got spanked for not picking up ALL my jacks when my mother stepped on one barefoot. Since caltrops (named something else in the book) are in Horngard I, I had researched how they can be made “at home,” as it were. Turns out that if you have any scrap iron or steel, and anything resembling a forge, it’s simple. Hot metal bends; and a couple of nails of appropriate size can be easily turned into the four-prong version. (Not QUITE that easy, but I watched demos of both flat steel plate and other sources being turned into quite useful caltrops.

    We had a cactus here, gorgeous pink flowers in spring, called “Horse crippler” that had very hard, very stout spines on top of a low raounded shape. They’re all gone…even some cactuses can’t stand long, hard droughts.

  • Comment by Nadine Bowlus — October 25, 2022 @ 4:56 pm


    The California Department of Transportation (aka CalTrans) is honored to be the useful tag for “caltrops”. 🙂

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