Welcome to Withenay’s Wednesday Word: a wandering, wondering dip into the dictionary. The topics are always varied and rarely predictable!
a type of tree
from Old English asce (probably means spear)
There is an old British saying: If the oak comes out before the ash, we’re in for a splash. If the ash comes out before the oak, we’re in for a soak.
I didn’t notice what happened this year, but I live in hope that the oak came first. The (common) ash tree is native to the UK and is a hardwood used in a lot of furniture, as well as being good for burning or smoking. It surprised me to learn that it is in the Olive family of trees: a variant of our mediterranean cousins. I don’t think anyone’s so interested in eating its fruit though!
Ash has a second meaning, being the residue from burning (and, to carry the botanical theme on briefly, is supposed to be good to put around your roses, as it is high in potassium). This gives rise to the word being used as a colour: a pale, silvery grey. Hence the desire for ash blonde hair dye, and also the description of people looking ashen, usually after a severe shock or illness, as the colour drains from their skin.
But of course, today, I must celebrate The Ashes: the beginning of the summer’s Test Match series, England v Australia. It is arguably cricket’s greatest rivalry (though India v Pakistan is vying for the same accolade). The name goes back to 1882 when Australia surprised the English by their first ever test victory on English soil. The Sporting Times wrote a mock obituary to English cricket, concluding that: “The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia.”
When the return tour to Australia came a few weeks later the English captain, Ivo Bligh, pledged to win back “the Ashes” and (thankfully) won the series 2-1. The urn he was given for winning remains one of the smallest trophies in sport (though a replica is now used).
So I suspend impartiality for a couple of months and say, “Come on England!”