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  • Paul Anthony Jones


(n.) a stretch of woodland frequented by foxes

Tod has been used as another word for a fox in English since medieval times, which makes a tod-stripe a stretch or ‘stripe’ of woodland frequented by foxes.

In this sense, the Oxford English Dictionary dates tod back to sometime around the early thirteenth century. But its use in as an element in placenames (like Todrig, ‘fox-hole’, and Toddleknowe ‘fox-hill’) and apparently surnames (the OED has a record of a Hugo Tod in the 1100s) would push that date further back into Old English territory.

That being said, no surviving record of an Old English word along these lines exists, so where the word tod itself comes from remains something of a mystery. One theory is that it’s related to another form of the word tod, which has long been used as a measurement of commodities like wool and hay. If that’s the case, the word may be meant to refer to the fox’s characteristic bushy tail; in this sense, tod is probably descended from some ancient Germanic word for unkempt hair, and survives in dialect English not only as a measurement but as a word for a patch of rough scrub or vegetation.

There is another theory that tod might have older Irish or Celtic roots, and might in some way be related to an Old Irish word, táid, for a thief. Given the fox’s natural wiliness this theory makes semantic sense at least, but as the OED explains, this theory “poses phonological problems.”

No matter where the word comes from, tod has nevertheless been rooted in our language long enough to inspire a host of derivative terms, of which tod-stripe—which has been unearthed (no pun intended) as far back as the 1400s—is one. There’s also tod-bird, or tod-bairn, old nicknames for disruptive or unruly children; tod-track, a fox’s footprint; tod-tyke, a fox–dog hybrid; and tod and lambs, a Scots board game similar to draughts; and tod’s-turn, a sly trick.

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