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  • Paul Anthony Jones


(n.) a dead but still standing tree

A tree that ceases to grow and perishes, yet remains standing, is a rampike.

That’s a word that can also be used of a burnt tree that remains standing, or for an erect tree stump. When it first appeared in English in the late 1500s, moreover, it was an adjective, not a noun, meaning ‘dead’ or ‘decaying’. But where does it come from?

The ‘pike’ here is probably nothing more than a figurative reference to the pikestaff of a spear or lance: that is, a single, straight shaft of wood. The ‘ram’ part, however, is more puzzling.

Different spellings of this word over time vary between rampike and ranpike, with other versions like raunpike, roanpike and rawanpike scattered in along the way. That development has led to suggestions that, despite modern appearances, rampike might ultimately derive from the word raven—perhaps in the sense that these dead trees were favoured haunts of the birds (due to their association with witchcraft and other malevolent forces), or else that the birds were somehow responsible for the tree’s demise. Case in point, this tantalizing definition from a nineteenth-century dialect dictionary:

Raunpick, bare of bark or flesh, looking as if pecked by ravens.
Sebastian Evans, Leicestershire Words, Phrases and Proverbs (1881)


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