- Paul Anthony Jones
(n.) the covered gate at the entrance to a churchyard
Ordinarily, the gate at the entrance to a churchyard or cemetery is called the lychgate. Lych (or lich, or litch as it’s also spelled) is an old word for a corpse, and it was beneath this covered lychgate that a body ready for burial would be kept in wait for the arrival of the parish priest. This gate, however, can also be called a scallenge.
That’s a word listed in the English Dialect Dictionary (alongside a host of other old regional glossaries), which also records an array of alternative spellings like skallage, skallag, scalleg, skallynge and skallenge. Other than pinpointing this word to the West Country counties of England, however, there’s little else to go on here.
What does this ‘scal–’ or ‘skal–’ element have to do with gates, churches, or corpses? It’s all something of a mystery. Perhaps there’s some link here to the old verb skail, meaning to scatter or disperse? Perhaps there’s a connection to scall, or skall, an old word for a scab or dry skin, or eczema (and which also came to be used figuratively of something looking worn down or shabby)? Or perhaps this has something to do with the verb scale, meaning to mount; tantalizingly, the EDD also lists skallenge-block is another name for a rider’s mounting block.
All these theories are problematic, however, and it’s just as likely none is true. With something of a dearth of evidence to go on, this one really has to remain unsolved.