The Language of the Peat

April 29, 2020


Have you ever thought about the language of the peat? Words that entered the English language from ancient descriptions of peatland, words like…


Bog – an area of soft, wet muddy ground, or a short version of ‘peatbog’ – the Marches Mosses itself. It comes from the 14th century Middle Irish ‘bocc’.
  • We use “bogged down”– to be stuck, entangled, hampered, delayed, overwhelmed


Moss – a small flowerless green plant which grows in low carpets in damp habitats and reproduces by spores. The origin is Old English, or Scottish, Northern English to mean a peat bog.
  • “Moss-coloured” – a soft, dull green, often used to describe a shade of fabric
  • “A rolling stone gathers no moss” – or just the Rolling Stones…


Mire – a stretch of swampy or boggy ground. It’s from Old English mōs Old Norse mȳrr.
  • To be “mired in a problem” is to be in a difficult situation that’s hard to escape from.


Morass – an area of muddy or boggy ground
  • “Stuck in a morass” – used to describe being in a complicated or confused situation


Lagg – the area surrounding a peatbog, probably of Scandinavian origin; akin to Norwegian dialect lagga, meaning to go slowly.
  • “To lag behind” – to fall behind a group or in a project
  • A laggard – someone who falls behind the others


Quagmire  – a soft boggy area of land that gives way underfoot. Could be derived from an archaic word, ‘quag’ meaning ‘to shake’.
  • “Stuck in a quagmire” –to be stuck in an awkward, complex, or hazardous situation


Slough – a swamp, a soft boggy area of land that gives way underfoot
  • To despair, to be “in the slough of despond”, as the travelers in The Pilgrim’s Progress were. John Bunyan placed this in the Morass of Marston Vale, Bedfordshire.


The word ‘peat’ itself: partly decomposed vegetable matter forming a deposit on acidic, boggy ground. It comes from the Anglo-Latin ‘peta’.
  • Interestingly, the Norwegian for peat is ‘torv’, similar to ‘turv’ used by Fenn’s, Whixall and Bettisfield turf cutters to describe a block of cut peat.


And here’s one you probably haven’t thought of: 
  • Ombrogenous, ‘Of peat, a bog, etc.: dependent on precipitation for its formation and maintenance.’ It was a recent OED Word of the Day!


Let us know what other peatland words you can think of. We’ll add them to the list!


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