|Photo by Such a Groke|
Noun. Middle English.
[Old & modern French branche = Provençal, Spanish branca claw, Italian branca claw, paw,
Romanian brînca hand, paw, from late Latin branca (in branca ursina bear's foot, acanthus), of unknown origin.]
1 A limb of a tree or shrub springing from the trunk or stem, or from a bough. ME
2(a) A lateral extension or subdivision of a main body, e.g. of a mountain range,
river, railway, road, artery, deer's horn, candelabrum, etc. ME
2(b) obsolete. A candelabrum or chandelier, especially in a church. LME-L18
3(c) obsolete. A human arm (or hand). rare (Shakespearean). Only in L16
2(d) A small stream. US. M17
3(a) (Connected with family tree.) A division of a family or race according
to the differing lines of descent from the common ancestor. ME
3(b) A descendent, a child. Now only jocular. ME
4 A (sub)division of a subject, pursuit, philosophy, detailed proposition, etc. E16
5 A component part of an organization or system such as a government, police force, church, etc. L17
6 A subordinate establishment of a library, bank, or other business, serving a particular area. E19
7 The nozzle of a fire-hose. L19
branchery noun (a) branches in the mass; (b) obsolete the ramifications of the endocarp in a fruit: L17
branchless adjective E17
branchlet noun a little branch. M18
Many years ago, I was conducting an investigation into criminal activity that required rural surveillance throughout the night. Thus, I dutifully donned my camouflage gear, packed my cameras and night-vision equipment, and settled myself into a ditch in the forest. It was bitterly cold, conditions that tend to sap battery power, so for most of the night my equipment was left off. I just listened, peering into the blackness for any sign of movement. It was fresh, silent and thoroughly exhilarating.
Periodically, however, I would turn on my night-vision and scan the surroundings; the immediate effect of flicking the switch was eerie and startlingly claustrophobic. While it was off, I was surrounded by blackness; I felt as if I was truly out in the open air, with endless, gloriously liberating space around me. When I looked through my night-vision, however, the scene turned into something nightmarish. The infrared illuminated the countless branches in front of me, branches that were invisible to me in the dark, but were now suddenly inches from my face. Their form was unnervingly clawlike, as if a thousand emaciated hands were pressing in on all sides around me. With a flick of the switch, my night-vision went dark, and instantly the claws were gone, and the feeling of claustrophobia evaporated as quickly as it had materialised. I was once again in the wide open space of rural Ireland.
The etymology of branch is fascinating, and I can't help but wonder if in ancient times, when our languages and words were being formed, our ancestors had similar experiences, seeing these otherwise beautiful and life-giving trees transform into something threatening and foreboding. Thus, just as I saw claws in the night, we have the word branch, rooted in its history of claws, paws and hands.
|Photo by Carol Vinzant|
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