Having moved to Pittsfield, I naturally made it a priority to get a library card (the library is wonderfully called the Athenaeum), and the first order of business once I had it was to check out a few local histories. I have just begun reading The History of Pittsfield, (Berkshire County,) Massachusetts, from the Year 1734 to the Year 1800, by J.E.A. Smith (1869, repr. [1990?]), and I cannot resist passing along this sentence and footnote from page 7:

On the heights where Greylock lifts the topmost summit of the State, along the valleys of the Hoosac and the Housatonic, up the rude but flower-fringed wood-roads which penetrate the narrowing opes¹ of the Green Mountains, beauty is everywhere the prevailing element.

   ¹ The reader will pardon to necessity the employment of a word of merely local authority and very infrequent use. A hope — or more descriptively, without the aspirate, an ope — is a valley, which, open at one end only, loses itself at the other, sloping upward to a point in the mass of the mountains. The word is quite indispensable in the description of scenery like that of Berkshire; and its disuse has resulted in the adoption of such vile substitutes as “hole,” “hollow,” or even worse. Thus we have Biggs’s Hole and Bigsby’s Hollow, or more probably “Holler.” Surely neatly descriptive ope should not be displaced by such abominable interlopers as these.

   WEBSTER has “HOPE, n. — A sloping plain between ridges of mountains. [Not in use.] Ainsworth.” — But English local topographical writers sometimes use the word in the sense given it in the text.

Now, that’s interesting enough, but when I went to the OED (a resource not yet available to the good Mr. Smith), I found entries for both spellings—with no indication that they are related.

The second noun hope:

[OE. hop app. recorded only in combination (e.g. fenhop, mórhop: see sense 1). It is doubtful whether all the senses belong orig. to one word. With sense 3 cf. ON. hóp ‘a small land-locked bay or inlet, salt at flood tide and fresh at ebb’ (Vigf.).]

1. A piece of enclosed land, e.g. in the midst of fens or marshes or of waste land generally.

2. A small enclosed valley, esp. ‘a smaller opening branching out from the main dale, and running up to the mountain ranges; the upland part of a mountain valley’; a blind valley. Chiefly in south of Scotl. and north-east of England, where it enters largely into local nomenclature, as in Hopekirk, Hopetoun, Hope-head, Dryhope, Greenhope, Ramshope, Ridlees Hope, etc.

And the entry ope, a. and n, definition B.2.a:

2. a. Eng. regional (south-west.). An opening; spec. a narrow, usually covered, passage between houses; = OPEWAY n.

Note the 1886 citation: W. BARNES Gloss. Dorset Dial. 85 Ope, an opening in the cliffs down to the water side. Coincidence, or a misplaced unaspirated form?

Perhaps frequent commenter Eliza can provide information as to whether either of these forms is still in use.

Incidentally, the Smith book is the source of the recent fuss about Pittsfield having the first recorded reference to baseball in America; as the SportsLine story says:

The evidence comes in a 1791 bylaw that aims to protect the windows in Pittsfield’s new meeting house by prohibiting anyone from playing baseball within 80 yards of the building…

Historian John Thorn was doing research on the origins of baseball when he found a reference to the bylaw in an 1869 book on Pittsfield’s history.

And there it is, at the top of pate 447: “…the exterior [of the meeting-house] was protected by a by-law forbidding ‘any game of wicket, cricket, base-ball, bat-ball, foot-ball, cats, fives, or any other game played with ball,’ within eighty yards of the precious structure.” Whatever they were playing in Pittsfield in 1791, however, it was certainly not the game of baseball as we know it, which was created (in primitive form) by Alexander Cartwright half a century later in Manhattan, true home of the game.


  1. The words don’t appear in any dialect book I have, lh, so I would have assumed that if they’re used at all, it’s in relation to topography, as you suggest. However, I’ve just found at least one reference to “ope” meaning “an opening” –
    Does a fountain send out, the verb “send out” means to burst forth or to gush, from the same opening the same ope, the same hole or split in the rock fresh water and bitter water? http://www.biblebb.com/files/MAC/59-18.htm
    I also found elsewhere the origin of the names of two villages I’m familiar with, both in north east England: Burnhope (apparently from hope, a valley) and Burnopfield (apparently from ope, also, according to the author, meaning valley). However, I don’t know how reliable the research is. These villages have much in common geographically, which could mean that ope and hope were at that point used interchangeably. SOED on the other hand, links ope to the noun open, meaning open space, which is apparently ME in origin, from the verb open, sense 2, meaning “not shut up” (among other meanings listed).
    The following accords more with your citation:
    The word `hope’ which occurs in the names of these streams is of Anglo-Saxon origin and means `side valley’. Hope-Burns are also very common in the dales of Northumberland but the Anglo-Saxon word hope is not so common in the stream names of the old Viking territory of Teesdale to the south http://www.thenortheast.fsnet.co.uk/Weardale.htm
    So it appears the two words originally had two distinct meanings – “ope” possibly meant a fissure in a rock(?) and “hope” meant a valley, but these distinctions have since on the whole been blurred.
    Unless someone out there knows better …

  2. Edit: No. It appears that ope originally meant an open space and hope originally meant a valley. I was misled by my first citation, which happens to be the most recent. It’s late and I need sleep.

  3. Aha! So, now I have a new understanding of a place in West Chatham County, on Rte 17 south from Savannah– Silk Hope.
    Thanks, ‘Hat!

  4. place names woth hope in them are also fairly fairly common in Scottish borders eg Stanbhope in Tweedale. Most of the places I can call to mind seem to fit the side valley idea fairly well.

  5. Stuart Morris says

    I came across your site when searching for the origin of “ope”. There are no less than 10 places called Ope on the coast of Portland, e.g. Church Ope, Broad Ope, Longstone Ope, Big Ope etc. These are ancient and may have Scandinavian origins – they are all recessed beaches (coves), landing places or access ways: This points to ‘ope’ being an opening for landing, and I am sure William Barnes was right. Portland itself is an historic place -inhabited since mesolithic times; it was settled by the Romans, and has been a royal manor since before the Conquest. It is now generally accepted as being scene of the first Viking raids on England.
    Could the OE meaning have an earlier Scandinavian derivation?

  6. it was certainly not the game of baseball as we know it, which was created (in primitive form) by Alexander Cartwright half a century later in Manhattan, true home of the game.

    Sigh. In those early days I was still in thrall to the Cartwright myth; in fact, he did not in any sense, primitive or not, create baseball, which has an unbroken line of ascent back to England (Jane Austen mentions it). See Richard Hershberger’s comment from last year on the difficulty of correcting Wikipedia on this point.

  7. marie-lucie says

    Could this dialectal English hope be cognate with German Hof ‘farm, farmstead’?

  8. PlasticPaddy says

    Gives for stanhope the final element hop = a valley; a remote enclosed place; a piece of enclosed land in a fen; an enclosure in marsh or moor
    This is just one place, but it looks promising in sense “enclosed place” for comparison with Hof.

  9. David Marjanović says

    No, not cognate, because Hof (pl. Höfe) has a short /f/, preserved from Proto-Germanic (and correspondingly a long vowel nowadays*); Dutch hof, Norwegian hov. The German Wiktionary article has the details from Guus Kroonen’s etymological dictionary of Germanic (2013). The “language-internal cognate Haufen” mentioned at the end is only a root cognate; its direct English cognate is heap, with a Proto-Germanic *p from a *pp that was shortened in a long syllable and comes from PIE *pn. (Courts, farms and the like used to be on hills. Sometimes anyway.)

    * Except in the last name Hoffmann. I think the ff is purely cosmetic, like a lot of ck were in earlier centuries, and has given the vowel a spelling-pronunciation. Maybe the name is actually from far enough north, though, that the lengthening of vowels in monosyllabic words didn’t reach it, and the ff is meant to mark the vowel as short.

  10. Northern German Hof with short /o/. Despite what you may think seeing the name of the song, the singer isn’t singing in Frisian, but in Plattdeutsch.

  11. David Marjanović says

    Oh! A useful reminder that the lengthening of monosyllabic words hasn’t reached that far – and that it really is independent of the lengthening of stressed open syllables, which started in that very area (and hasn’t reached Switzerland).

    Unchanged [ɛ] in “rain”!

    Interesting how the /r/ approaches [ɹ] sometimes. There is an accent in Austria that does this.

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