Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Learning | Scree

If you have read any of Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody Mysteries, you have probably encountered the word scree, meaning landslip. (If you have not read them, the word comes up frequently, since the main characters are archaeologists who often excavate in Egypt. There's scree all over the place!)

This comes from an Old English word, related to the Swedish and Danish skred, meaning to slide or glide. 

It also means a mass of detritus, forming a precipitous, stony slope upon a mountain-side; also, the material composing such a slope.

Screefrom Carlos Baquero's photostream on 
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I turned to the Oxford English Dictionary for the definition, because I thought I had found another use of the word in the book I'm currently reading. 

It's an historical novel by Nancy E. Turner, titled My Name is Resolute.  

It's the story of a tenacious young girl who is captured from her aristocratic Jamaican home, then sold several times as a slave.  

She carries valuable family treasures, such as coins and jewelry, sewn into pockets on her petticoat. 

(She also settles in colonial Lexington, Massachusetts, in the years leading up to the American Revolution. But I'm getting ahead of myself.) 

Here's the quote from page 197, which employs the word scree:

"How shall I make myself into a woman? As I made an apron, as I made my own thread and turned it into a plaited cloth, hid my scree within, and then was abandoned by my only kin?"

I puzzled over this for a while.  Was this an editing error? Did the author really mean to use the word scree, or a similar word, screed? 

Screed is a word with multiple meanings;  it is probably derived from the word shred. Turner had already described that petticoat as tattered and patched up. I don't think she meant screed in the above passage.  

Scree lobelia in fruit, from John Sullivan's photostream on
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The original meaning of scree might be used here as a part of a metaphor, describing the changes in Resolute's circumstances as a series of slides and slips down a mountain.

The above photo of a scree lobelia plant bearing fruit amongst rocks on the side of a mountain reminds me of the main character, Resolute Talbot.  She is a strong-willed child, who grows into a determined, productive woman. I won't spoil the story for you with specific details, but she plays a very important role in the American Revolution.

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