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How are things in your metaphorical neck of the woods?

If you're a loyal watcher of the Today Show on NBC, you're probably familiar with weatherman Al Roker's catchphrase:"Here's what's happening in your neck of the woods."

That saying doesn't make much sense when you think about it, but it's probably one that you use or hear other people use.

Like a lot of sayings in our language, this one is pretty old and used to have a different meaning. When we talk about "neck of the woods" now, the neck is metaphorical and the woods are no longer required.

Neck is a Germanic word that can be found in the earliest forms of English. This isn't terribly surprising, since most of our words for fundamental human body parts -- nose, hand, head, foot -- are Germanic.  

Your head isn't the only part with a neck attached to it. Your bladder also has a neck -- that's the narrow part on one end. Additionally, bottles, cannons and stringed instruments all have necks, and a pass between mountains can be called a neck. 

A neck can also refer to a narrow piece of land with water on both sides or, and here's where things get really relevant, a narrow stretch of wood or pasture. "Neck of woods" comes to mean a small community within the woods.

From there, it comes to refer specifically to your community or your neighborhood --  i.e. "my neck of the woods."

Can you think of other sayings that don't really make any sense but still get used all the time? Let us know at rkruth@umich.edu or acurzan@umich.edu.

Anne Curzan is the Geneva Smitherman Collegiate Professor of English and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan. She also holds faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education.
Rebecca Kruth is the host of All Things Considered at Michigan Public. She also co-hosts Michigan Public's weekly language podcast That’s What They Say with English professor Anne Curzan.
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