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Monday, July 11, 2011

Cairn Glade

On the Black Mountain trail last week, I delighted in seeing mountain laurel for the first time, sampling some of the season's first wild blueberries, and coming upon this magical glade of cairns. The photo does not do justice to the careful structures there. Reverently, I captured the image and have since reflected on the etymology of the word. Of course, the first source to appear when I search online is Wikipedia ( It does give a detailed history of the word cairn and reinforces the purpose of cairns as markers along trails. But I love the Scottish tradition of carrying a stone from the bottom and adding it to a cairn at the top. As we trek up the peaks in Glacier National Park next week, I might move a stone from the bottom to the top in that way.

Looking at Wikipedia also reminded me of a contested word during a heated game of Quiddler with my mom and sons not long ago. Our family games of Quiddler and Bananagrams get quite competitive and spirited. On this occasion, my middle son wanted to use the word ower. The rest of us protested, asking about its definition. He pulled out his iPod Touch and looked up the word, reporting that it means "a person who owes money." The librarian in me asked, "What is your source?" He told us it was Well. We demanded that he check the word in other dictionary sources, and indeed, it was not listed.

Does that mean it will never be an accepted word in the lexicon? Will ower ever be in common dictionaries? It might. But it did not get counted among accepted words in the game...and caused us to discuss again the accuracy of sources and the need for ethical choices when posting information for public use.


  1. Today, when I reached the very top of Squaw Peak at Squaw Valley, CA, I added a stone to the top of a cairn overlooking the valley (NOT a stone I had carried from the bottom of the trail, however).

    And reading your thoughts about the appearance of words in a "real" dictionary naturally made me think of FRINDLE, one of my very favorite middle grade novels.

  2. I loved Frindle, too, David. Wouldn't it be grand to make a cairn of words like ower and frindle?

  3. Love the cairn and the tradition of taking a stone from the bottom up to the top!