clint, grike

Here comes Clint and his pet grike!

Actually, there are two clints, and the grike is a sort of rift between them…

Noticed that I lower-cased clint? Yes, I’m not actually talking about the name Clint here, which is short for Clinton, which is an English toponym that I’m not going too far into. Rather, I’m talking about something even more chiselled than Clint Eastwood’s face and more flinty than his voice. And grike, though it may look like a word for some squawking white seabird, is, per the OED, “a fissure between clints.”

Well, that’s the technical use of it in geology. More generally (inasmuch as it is used more generally), it is (OED again) “a crack or slit in rock, a ravine in a hill-side.” I don’t know about you, but to me something that hard and cut should be crike. But it’s not. It’s grike to me and grike to you. Address any gripes to a crack in a rock.

From that you may have some notion of what a clint is. It is not a cliff (though it may be part of one), not a cleft (though it is between clefts); it is a flat bare slab of limestone, that bit between the grikes. It can also be a hard or flinty rock projecting from a hillside or standing out between fissures. In a sense, then, it may be to rock as a glint is to light. But then it again perhaps not. What it surely is is obtrusive and obdurate, like some clients.

Does it seem that the ologies are all agee in geology? How does clint not call forth a crevice, a cleft cloven as with a cleaver, at least a crack? But the Scots who brought it into the tongue got it honestly from old Germanic roots, reflected in Scandinavian languages: Danish and Swedish klint, in particular. And grike, should it not be a great spike, if it can’t be the bird its name may seem to suggest? But it is not, and in limestone lands such as England, grikes are not mere empty crevices; they are places for greenery to grow. In the deep crack in the rock, the dirt builds up and the plants root down, and it can be as green as you like. James Joyce used it in Ulysses, so it must be a word to use (had he used it in Finnegans Wake, you could rest confident of the opposite): “He climbed over the sedge and eely oarweeds and sat on a stool of rock, resting his ashplant in a grike.”

So there you have it. Faced with a fissured limestone surface, you see clint, grike, clint, grike, clint, grike, clint. Do you notice, on saying that, that the onsets are quite similar? /kl/ – velar stop, liquid; /gr/ – velar stop, liquid. The vowels are the two ways to say the letter i, as /ɪ/ or /aɪ/. The word that rests flat up front gets an ending up on the front of the tongue, /nt/; the one that is cut to the depth gets the /k/ at the back. So we do have some topological iconicity. And a bit more knowledge of the nooks and crannies of the lexicon.

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