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Inglenook

Pronounced /ˈɪŋɡ(ə)lnʊk/Help with pronunciation

Almost more than any other, this delightful word for a chimney corner evokes quiet contemplation in a comfortable seat by a warm fire after a hard day, in the company of friends and a pint that’s been created by a brewer with a conscience.

Here’s Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in The Valley of Fear, evoking the scene: “Finally he lit his pipe, and sitting in the inglenook of the old village inn he talked slowly and at random about his case, rather as one who thinks aloud than as one who makes a considered statement”.

Prosaically, an inglenook is just a seat in the nook, or corner, near the fire, or ingle. We hardly ever encounter the latter word nowadays except in dialect usage or when accompanied by its other half.

Various etymologists have had a stab at a source for it. The most common explanation is that it comes either from the Scots Gaelic or Irish aingeal; in the former, it means a light or fire, in the latter a live ember. These associations are too powerful for alternative explanations to stand much chance of success, though some dictionaries hazard an origin in the Latin igniculus, a diminutive of ignis, fire.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 2 Jan. 2000

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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Last modified: 2 January 2000.