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Q From Mary Ellen Armellino: An article on wood turning spoke of a man who ‘coppiced his first wood’ in 1992 and who now supplies a coppice merchant. I looked up coppice in my little dictionary, but it just said it was a noun meaning copse. What does the verb to coppice mean?

A The verb is not so well known as the noun. A coppice is not just any woodland area, but one which is productively managed in a special way. Trees are cut down and encouraged to grow again from the stump. (In fact, the idea of cutting is inherent in the word, as it comes from the Greek kolaphos, “blow”, via the Latin verb colpare, “to cut with a blow”; copse is a variant form that appeared in the sixteenth century as the result of what’s called grammatical syncopation, or missing a sound out of a word). Coppicing produces a large number of thin stems, which are harvested on a regular cycle of about five to fifteen years. A common species that was coppiced was hazel, which supplied wood to make hurdles, brushes and besom brooms; oak was coppiced to supply bark for the tanning industry. Other common coppiced species in Britain were the wych-elm and the ash, often used for tool handles and the like.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 19 Dec. 1998

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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: 19 December 1998.