What is a billhook??? continued (Page 3)

Having traced the ancestry of the word, however it is obvious that in english the hook part of the word has now changed its meaning to describe the tool itself, not its function. Hook is frequently on its own to indicate a billhook and also other tools of a similar shape such and also as suffix, as in spar hook, reap hook, fagging hook, bean hook etc. Also calling the beak of the tool by its alternative name of bill, has also meant that the way in which the word is now used differs greatly from its origins – language evolves, and users thus refer to the bill (of the hook), meaning the pointed beak, or more commonly as an abbreviation for billhook.


As the billhook was in use in England long before the Saxon invasions we may need to look even further back to find what it was called before the Romans invaded, and it became known as the falx in Latin (note falx also means sickle and scythe, so it was usual to add an adjective to describe its use further, e.g. falx arboraria, falx sylvatica or falx putatorem, for pruning trees, or falx vinitoria, for pruning grape vines).


Possibly in pre-Roman times it was called the biwlg (pronounced bilygau) as in Welsh or the fidba (feeva) in Gaelic??? (Note also the Welsh for axe is bwyell (pronounced bwyeill or bwyellau) and in Gaelic it is biail (beeal) – similar in sound to bill, beil and bijl???).


In other languages, e.g. French, Spanish and Italian it is also possible to trace the evolution of the word for billhook, but in these languages the variety of dialect names vastly exceeds those commonly found in the UK. Some interesting historical links can be seen that do not match modern, often 20th century, national boundaries. In both Sardinia (an Italian island) and the Basque region of France/Spain the word puda is commonly used – in France it becomes poudo, in Spain podón, and in Portugal podäo, podal or podoa. In Italy it is generally referred to as a roncola or pennato, but in the Pavia region (Lombardy) it is known as a pùdarö (2). All are probably derivations of the Latin amputare (to prune) hence putatio (pruning) and putator (a pruner, i.e. one who prunes), from which the modern Italian potare (to prune) and Spanish podar derive. Probably the result of oral transmission of language in dialect forms, possibly a relic from the time when only the clergy could read and write (the principal religion was Catholicism and Latin was the language of the church and of scholars), it is easy to understand a change in pronunciation from puta to pota to poda to podo.


The billhook in Europe has a history going back over 3000 years, mentioned by the Roman author Cato approx 200BC and described in detail by Columella approx 50AD, and although the tool is not described, vine pruning is mentioned in Ancient Greece in Hesiod’s Works and Days approx 800BC. Its history in Britain predates the Roman Invasions, and remains of tools have been obtained from Iron Age villages: