“What are crannies?”

I don’t know about you, but when I think of nooks and crannies, I immediately think of Jill Barklem’s remarkable illustrations in the Brambly Hedge Series.

Yesterday afternoon, we found ourselves wandering through the Boston Public Library in Copley Square. The Five-Year-Old was thrilled to explore the Leventhal Map Center, but was markedly less appreciative of the Sargent murals. (I enjoyed both.)

On our way home, I was reflecting out loud on the possibility of commuting in to Boston every morning to write in one of the Boston Public Library’s reading rooms. I had just decided against it on the grounds that I would write more efficiently tucked away in one of our local library’s nooks and crannies instead of at the Boston’s library’s long public tables, when The Five-Year-Old asked: “What’s a cranny?”

My first response was that crannies are pretty much the same as nooks. I would have gotten away with it too, if it hadn’t been for Daddyo’s pesky insistence that an idiom such as nook and cranny couldn’t possibly be so redundant.

It was time to Ask the iPhone.

Turns out there is a distinction. According to Wikipedia, when used on its own, nook can refer to a corner, an alcove, a recess, or simply a hidden or secluded spot. A cranny on the other hand, is merely a crack. When the two are used together in the idiomatic phrase nook and cranny, nook’s meaning pretty much takes over, leaving you with a phrase that means a small or hidden place (or part of a place).

What new-to-you word did you learn this weekend?

About Shala Howell

I spent two decades helping companies like Bell Labs, Juniper Networks, and a genetic testing company that was later acquired by CVS translate some of the world’s most complicated concepts into actionable, understandable English. Now I'm working on a much harder problem -- fostering children’s curiosity and engagement in the scientific, artistic, and linguistic world that surrounds them. The first book in my Caterpickles Parenting Series, What’s That, Mom?, focuses on how to use public art to nurture children’s curiosity in the world around them. My next book will focus on science, and how parents without a science degree can answer their curious child's questions without enrolling in a college level refresher course. In the meantime, you can find me blogging about life with a very curious Eleven-Year-Old at Caterpickles.com, chatting about books and the writing life at BostonWriters.blog, and tweeting about books, writing, science, & things that make me smile at @shalahowell.
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13 Responses to “What are crannies?”

  1. Pingback: Boston Book Festival 2012 Celebrates the Power of Words | Yareah Magazine. Arts and writing

  2. gran says:

    to think that I thought that a cranny was a crabby granny…


  3. Oooh, I love nooks and crannies in libraries. The Pittsburgh Carnegie library has lots of great ones. New words for the weekend, British slang. I watch a lot of Top Gear and they use bonnet for the hood of a car, boot for the trunk, and saloon for sedan. If I keep watching the show, I’m going to start calling the hood of our truck the bonnet.


    • Shala Howell says:

      Gotta love British slang. I may have to adopt “boot.” If only because I live near Canada and it would be a fun time to practice my crappy Canadian accent (never know when you’ll need one of those, right?)


      • Exactly! Those random spur of the moment escapes to exotic places like Calgary, and St. John. I love British slang, and personally, I think boot is way more fun to say than trunk.


  4. Tamara says:

    ooooooo I just love words! Thanks for posting…


    • Shala Howell says:

      Me too, as you can tell by the string of word posts on the blog lately. One of my favorite things about The Five-Year-Old is her habit of questioning our use of everyday words.


      • Tamara says:

        M once asked, “why do we drive on parkways and park on driveways?” I still have no good answer–all these years later. One of our favorite Christmas presents from a few years ago was a book called Endangered Words–the Howell House would love it too, I think!


  5. silver price says:

    Nooks and Crannies is a reference to small and out of the way locations in a room or on an object. The detail on a fireplace mantle (Corbels etc..) with recesses would be the nooks and crannies of the fireplace. It is often used to refer to those “hard to reach” locations.


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