• lea, ley •
lee, lay • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. Flat, grass field suitable for grazing, a pasture. 2. Any flat, arable but untilled land.
Notes: Here is another word used so seldom we haven't even decided how to spell or pronounce it. In the US, lea, with the two pronunciations above, is preferred. Elsewhere it is spelled ley or lay.
In Play: This word usually refers to flat meadowland: "The stream ripples through the wood and by the lea with its lowing herd and onwards to Heaven knows where." Ley farming is not growing grain on a field but allowing it to "rest" as a ley every so many years: "Some progressive farmers alternate grainfields with leys for grazing cattle every four years."
Word History: In Old English today's Good Word was leah "open grassy field, meadow", from earlier lęch. Leah continues to be a lovely feminine given name; Lee is of the same progeny. These words descend from PIE leuk-/louk- "light, bright, shine", source also of Sanskrit lokah "open space, world," Czech louka "meadow", and Lithuanian laukas "field, plot". So, open spaces were perceived as bright compared to woods. The [k] in PIE became [kh] in Germanic languages, usually spelled GH in English and always CH in German. Notice the [kh] sound often developed into [h] as in the Old English version of today's word (leah), which has a habit of disappearing in English. So, English light underwent this process, too, but not German Licht "light". Latin lux [lucs] "light", Greek leukos "shining, white", and Russian luč "beam, ray" are all derived from the same PIE word. (Today's is yet another lovely Good Word from Susan Maynard, her twelfth since joining our merry band of contributors in 2019.)
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