Neck of the woods

Jesse Sheidlower jester at PANIX.COM
Sat Feb 21 01:09:51 UTC 2004

On Fri, Feb 20, 2004 at 04:49:16PM -0800, Peter A. McGraw wrote:
> A member of our English dept. recently asked me about this expression, and
> now it's driving me crazy. I've poked around in various dictionaries, and
> several of them have "neck of the woods" as an entry and an 1839 first
> occurrence, but none hazards an explanation of its derivation.  If there's
> a sense of "neck" that denotes "part" or "area" in any expression but this
> one, I've missed it.  Extending the meaning of "woods" to mean something
> like "neighborhood" is transparent enough, but I can't figure out how
> "neck" could ever have been chosen to designate a part of a forest.

Have you checked OED? Its definition reveals:

b. orig. U.S. A narrow stretch of wood, pasture, ice, etc. Now
usually in neck of the woods: a settlement in wooded country,
or a small or remotely situated community; (hence more
generally) a district, neighbourhood, or region. in this neck
of the woods: in this vicinity, around here (also used
elliptically). Formerly also neck of timber.

Citations from 1637 onwards follow.

Jesse Sheidlower

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