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  • Paul Anthony Jones


(n.) the collective branches of a tree

Collectively, the network of branches of a tree can be known as its ramage (rhyming with damage, not mirage).

Ramage is a peculiarly varied word, with a number of competing meanings in our language, of which this is only one. At the root (no pun intended) of all of them is ramus, a Latin word for the branch or bough of a tree; in medical contexts, that remains in use in English as a word for a branch of a nerve. Less well remembered in English is ramagium, a Latin legal term for the right to collect twigs and fallen boughs in a forest for use as firewood, and it’s likely with a little help from that that ramage came to be used in Old French to describe the branches of a tree, and was eventually adopted into English in the seventeenth century.

This word’s connection with wild and wooded areas, however, has sparked several other uses it over the centuries. Until the late 1800s or thereabouts, ramage was a word often used to describe the collective cries or calls of birds in trees. A bird described using ramage as an adjective, moreover, is one that has just fledged, and begun hopping and flapping around the branches beside its nest. In more general terms, a ramage creature is one that is wild and untamed, and hence uncontrollable, unpredictable, and unruly.

In heraldry, a coat of arms (or some element thereof) described as ramage is decorated with some branching, tree-shaped emblem. And an area of land referred to as ramage is heavily thicketed or densely packed with impenetrable vegetation.

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