Sheds, shacks, & hovels
Inspired by my little recording/writing space out in the veggie garden (known as the shedio), I find myself intrigued by the etymologies (or lack thereof) of shed & its various synonyms.
Shed is of questionable parentage. It appeared in English in the 1400s. It may have its roots in the word shade, but no certain evidence has jumped forth into the sunlight to prove this theory.
Similarly, the term shack has no definite parentage. It first appeared in print in 1878. Some etymologists argue that it may be a variant of shake, or may have come from ramshackle (both of which predate it). Others claim it might have come from the Nahuatl word xacalli, wooden hut, through Mexican Spanish. Still nobody really knows from whence the word shack came.
The word hovel isn’t really a synonym for shack or shed, but a hovel is a small building, & I have a fondness for the word. I lived a year in a place friends & family referred to as "hovel sweet hovel." It was one of seven tiny, decrepit buildings near San Luis Obispo Creek. I had to duck to enter, it wasn't possible to close the bathroom door if one was sitting on the toilet, & the mushrooms growing from the floor were not an interior decorating decision. Hovel showed up in English back in the 1300s, meaning a vent for smoke, & within a century had come to mean a shed for animals. It wasn’t until the 1600s that it came to mean a rude or miserable cabin. This last definition is particularly apropos for my hovel. I learned afterward that the compound of seven hovels had been used in the 1940s to house the county’s Japanese residents as they waited to be delivered to internment camps. Misery indeed.
So, dear readers, please leave a comment with a tidbit of a tale regarding any shed, shack, or hovel experiences you’ve “enjoyed.”
My thanks go out to this week’s sources, etymonline.com, merriam-webster.com, & the OED.
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
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