In a word: purlieu

April 15, 2013|By John E. McIntyre | The Baltimore Sun

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a relatively 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:


Originally the land on the fringe or border of a forest, purlieu (pronounced PURL-yoo), has come to mean the outskirts of a city or town, the suburbs or outlying districts of a city or town, the margins or fringes, or a person's usual haunts. Sometimes it can refer to a disreputable part of a city, a slum.

We have it from the Anglo-Norman (the Normans, once having grabbed Britain, being persnickety about land rights) puralee, a going around to settle boundaries.

Example: From a description in P.D. James's Innocent Blood of travel by train into a city: "Perhaps it was just that the scenery flashing by was as predictably dreary, so typical of the grey purlieus of any large city, that forgotten descriptions, old pictures, and newsprint, snatches of film jumbled in her imagination to produce this sense of recognition."

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