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You Don't Say John E. McIntyre writes about language, usage, journalism & arbitrarily chosen subjects.

In a word: pollard

The Baltimore Sun

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a moderately obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar — another brick to add to the wall of your working vocabulary. This week's  word: 


The star magnolia trees at the back of the house are in fragrant bloom. When we moved in thirty years ago, the trees were not quite my height. Now they are more than twice my height, and a couple of years ago, when we engaged a crew to take out a dying Chinese elm, we had the star magnolias topped, or pollarded.

To pollard (pronounced PAHL-ard) is to cut the top branches of a tree to the trunk, to encourage new growth. As a noun, a pollard is a tree so barbered, or an animal, such as a goat or sheep, that no longer has its horns.

The root of the noun is the Middle English pol, “head” or “noggin,” the same as for the modern poll. When an electoral poll or a survey poll is conducted, heads are being counted.

Example: From Peter Chew, “The Painter Who Hated Picasso,” in Smithsonian, October 2006: “In 1932, philanthropist Paul Mellon asked [Sir Alfred] Munnings to paint him astride his favorite hunter, Dublin, in Gloucestershire. In his Reflections in a Silver Spoon, Mellon recalls getting a photograph of the painting before the real thing arrived. ‘I thought the bushy willow tree to the left was a little disturbing and wrote to Munnings, asking whether he could do something to make it slightly less prominent,’ Mellon recalled. ‘Sometime later, I got a blast back saying in the first place, the tree wasn't a willow, it was a pollarded oak, and second, he had no intention of changing anything whatsoever. So that was that.’ ”

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