Barrow ditch.

Mark Odegard markodegard at HOTMAIL.COM
Mon Oct 9 16:45:52 UTC 2000

I have recently become aware of the term 'barrow ditch'. It seems to be an American regionalism, confined mostly to the South; I'm told that, in the South, it's pronounced 'bar-ditch'. It refers to the ditch alongside a highway. A web search conclusively demonstrates that this is in active usage.  

Oddly, 'barrow ditch' seems undocumented by the dictionaries. I've compared notes with a few others, and about the only work we have not consulted is DARE. 

The interesting thing, of course, is the usage of 'barrow'. The older sense of barrow is that of a mound of earth, an artificial hill, particularly over a grave: tumulus, kurgan. This sense is found mainly in archaeological literature. The other sense is that found in 'wheelbarrow', where it seems the device for transporting a barrow, a mound (of something) has, through metonymy, become the name of the device.

Is 'barrow' being used to describe an elevated roadbed? All good roads, of course, are at least slightly elevated from the surrounding terrain, in order to ensure good drainage. One thinks of a barrow as being a rounded mound, but something dike-like is not a difficult semantic extension.  I wonder if civil engineers, the kind that design roads, use 'barrow' in this sense.  I suspect this is an archaism. 


Mark Odegard.

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