View Full Version : Cairn... What does it mean and where did it come from?

01-20-2004, 05:13 PM
Can someone shed some light on this subject? History about them.

Thanks for answering my stupid questions,

01-20-2004, 05:27 PM
cairn (n)

1: a mound of stones piled up as a memorial or to mark a boundary or path

2: small rough-haired breed of terrier from Scotland

The word cairn originated in Scotland and was originally used to describe any pile of rocks. It later was used to describe piles of rocks that were used to mark boundaries or paths through fields.

As for definition #2, they are one of the oldest breeds of dog in Scotland and were used to ferret out vermin from the piles of rocks (cairns) that dotted the landscape. Fiesty, fearless stubborn little dogs... I live with one. I have seen him (15 lbs) go head to head with a 100 lb German Shephard and not back down. If you want a Rottweiler in a small package, check out the Cairn Terrier.

01-20-2004, 06:00 PM
How does everyone here pronounce cairn? I have heard it two different ways. One like the actress of Laugh-in fame Judy Carne or more like Karen. Which do you prefer.

01-20-2004, 07:18 PM
Cairns - Out west they are pronounced 'd-u-c-k-s" I have no clue as to why, but I have heard more than a couple of folks talk about following or looking for the "ducks"

01-20-2004, 07:31 PM
Sorry, but I gotta disagree with the pronunciation of col.

col: pronounced with the o as in column. col is a French word (col
1. defile, mountain pass; 2. neck; 3. collar; 4. pass)
col is from the Latin word for neck, collum.


01-20-2004, 08:46 PM
No discussion of interesting Celtic mountaineering terms can be complete without mentioning Cwm (pronounced "Coom" I think). A non-gallic term for cirque

As in the Western Cwn of Everest

01-20-2004, 08:57 PM
all this time I thought it was a shortened version of couloir. A quick check with a dictionary revealed that couloir is a deep gorge. Close, but quite different.

Puma concolor
01-20-2004, 10:25 PM
My wife and I were married by Father Cairns. He is not a pile of rocks.

01-21-2004, 05:25 AM
Not sure Iím cairn about how to correctly pronounce it, but itís good to col a pile of rocks by its right name. Of course, with alternative pronunciations in mind, it could be the frigidly col weather that has me in semi-hibernation and bored enough to write drivel like this.


01-21-2004, 05:37 AM
Just an amusing anecdote ... I learned what a "cairn" was back when I was a teenager and first read Stephen King's "Pet Sematary". A plot point was that for something to come back to life, you had to bury them in the thin, rocky, soil, then build a cairn atop the site.

01-21-2004, 07:29 AM
I'm with JohnL on the pronunciation and etymology of "col". In english, I do pronounce it as "call". In french, it is true that there is something of the "coal" aspect to it, but the way most of us say "call" is closer to the french pronunciation than "coal".

01-21-2004, 12:16 PM
If col is French, then wouldn't it be pronounced like "cuhl" ?

01-21-2004, 12:57 PM
Ummm... jfb, in French, that would be "cul", which is a different part of the body altogether!

01-21-2004, 02:03 PM

I believe you misunderstood my post, but that's OK. I learned
French from nuns with Boston accents.

01-24-2004, 09:01 AM
according to JPL it means "they of the great rocks" in an ancient indian tongue

Tom H
01-27-2004, 07:02 AM
Oh, why not? 8 in 10 Adirondack hikers get this one wrong. Colvin, as in Verplanck Colvin, is pronounced "Cahl"-vin, just like the correct pronounciation of col (as in column). Colden (Coal-den), on the other hand, is pronounced correctly be virtually everyone.

Mad Townie
01-27-2004, 01:25 PM
This gets weird.

A couloir is a gorge, which of course is the French word for throat. It's not a col, which is a collar, which in turn goes around the throat. But a col doesn't go around a couloir.

I'm always happy when I can get my cul up the couloir to the col. :eek:

Oh, and I learned my French from all 4 grandparents, except for the cul word (and a few others), which I learned from my friends!

I never learned the word cairn until much later in life. I had a professor who prounounced it "CARN", or more accurately "CAAHN" (if you can picture a combined Maine and English accent), so I never know how to prounounce it.

01-27-2004, 02:34 PM
Grumpy Quote: "Not sure Iím cairn about how to correctly pronounce it"

Got a chuckle out of me.