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This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
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Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Patience on a monument

Titanic memorial in Belfast

Yesterday a nice young man knocked on my door and asked if he might look for a monument in my back yard. Since my garden is quite bereft of statuary, I thought, "Good luck with that!" but let him through.

And lo! After some digging and waving around of a metal detector (I was so hoping he would find some hidden treasure), he found the monument! But it was a very unprepossessing square iron peg buried under my fence.

I learned a meaning of "monument" that I didn't know before. The young man was a surveyor, and it has a specific meaning in surveying of "a marker of a property boundary".  It has had that meaning since the 1650s!

At least my surveyor didn't find in my garden a monument in the Scottish sense of  "A ridiculous or objectionable person or thing; a laughing-stock, a fool, a rogue."

"Monument", which came into English in the 1300s, is derived from classical Latin monumentum, monimentum commemorative statue or building, tomb, from mon─ôre to remind, which is also the root of "admonish", "monitor" and even "summon".


  1. Surveyors also use "monument" as a verb - "We will monument the boundary while we are on the site". That means they will plant a series of SIBs (standard iron bars, like the one on your property) along the boundary.

    1. that is interesting! Not at all surprising noun-verb function shift.


About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.