I have long enjoyed climbing Old Rag mountain near Madison, VA. It provided me with a then-new word, when someone called it a monadnock. Since summer hiking weather is here, let’s explore what, at first glance, seems a Native-American word.
Our word comes from Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire, whose origin (thank you, Wikipedia) “Loosely translated. . .means ‘mountain that stands alone.’ ” Over time, that peak figuratively crossed the Atlantic, so alpinists all over the world refer to such lonely peaks as Monadnocks.
As metaphor, the word has real power. I’ve heard people of strong character called “mountains,” but the OED has an excellent example by W.H. Auden, in 1947, “O stiffly stand, a staid monadnock, On her peneplain.” Auden just gave me another word I’ve never encountered; a peneplain is a level area formed by erosion. The poet knew his geology, all the better to frame a monadnock.
Get out and climb a peak this summer (if you can beat the crowds, post-COVID). I’ll save Old Rag for the off-season.
The blog will continue occasionally all summer, but please send us words and metaphors useful in academic writing by e-mailing me (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.
Image of Fuji, one of the world’s most famous monadnocks, by Kawase Hasui.