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Mar 25, 2002
This week's theme
Words that seem unreal

This week's words

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with Anu Garg

Instead of explaining in a thousand words what a ha-ha looks like, I'll show you a picture. Etymologists claim we got the word ha-ha from ha!, the sound one might exclaim on getting tripped by that trap, otherwise known as a sunken fence. I'm sure they have done their research and are right. But I can't help thinking it might have been derived from the laughter of a French aristocrat when an unsuspecting guest tripped while visiting his chateau.

Ah-ha, that gives me an idea, just in time for this April Fool's Day! I think I'll call a landscape designer.

"Hi, Mr. Dougwell? I'd like to order a ha-ha around my apartment."
"You'd like to order what?"
"Ha-ha! You think you can do it by next week? I've some visitors coming over. And don't forget to bring your Hard Hat and Hack Hammer."

All kidding aside, what's the brouhaha about this thing? In the 18th century someone came up with the clever idea of a fence that let the property owner have an unhindered view of the landscape, giving an illusion of contiguous land, while protecting him from trespass. Here's a fascinating essay on the deeper meanings of ha-ha.

Well, this week's words may give you an impression that I'm playing an April Fool's prank on you, but that's not true. All words featured this week, as in any week, are real dictionary words.


(ha-ha) Pronunciation

noun: Sunk fence.

[From French haha, reduplicative of ha!, exclamation of surprise, that might come out when tripped by such an obstacle.]

"They covet our haha fences, tucked out of view by ditches and so named because of their surprise value."
Tina Kelley; Zoo Nice To See You; The Seattle Post-Intelligencer; Sep 19, 1995.


Solitude, though it may be silent as light, is like light, the mightiest of agencies; for solitude is essential to man. All men come into this world alone; all leave it alone. -Thomas De Quincey, writer (1785-1859)

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