You say potato . . .

It's occasionally fun to be reminded that I now live in an agricultural town--especially when that reminder does not come in the form of fresh manure scents wafting in my nostrils or gap-toothed cowboys wearing Carhartt coveralls (which, so help me, I left Alaska to get AWAY from!)

The most recent reminder was a linguistic one. At a Sunday dinner potluck hosted today by Before, a group of us got into conversation about the term "borrow pit," which all the agricultural kids know about and use, and which I and the rest of the decadent bourgeoisie had never before heard of.

Apparently it refers to the deep indentations on the side of the road.

Me: Isn't that a ditch?

Aggies: No, because there's no water in it.

Me: So it's only a ditch if it has water?

Aggies: Or if it sometimes has water.

Me: Riiiiiight.

So when they think of ditches they think of irrigation. I think of ditches as "where the dead bodies of stupid girls who jog alone in the dead of night end up." Also as place for the disposing of handguns. (We had different upbringings, apparently). I asked how you spell it, but none of the aggie kids could remember ever seeing it in print so they don't know how it's spelled (which means it's probably spelled d-i-t-c-h). It's pronounced "borrow pit," though.

I decided to research this a bit when I got home.

First tried burrow pit, which, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, is a fancy word for hole someone dug up.

A borrow pit is "a pit from which construction material, as sand or gravel, is taken for use as fill at another location." Again . . . hole someone dug up.

Hit gold with barrow pit, which is a Western United States noun meaning roadside borrow pit dug for drainage purposes.

So, drainage . . . how is that different from a ditch, then?

Can anyone settle this for me? And are there any other names that you might use to label the place where your car goes when you swerve off the road to avoid a moose, cow, or ax-murderer?


Anonymous said... [reply]


A ditch gits [gets] the water from one place to another.

A barrow pit is supposed to git the water and make it disappear into the ground.

The End

Anonymous said... [reply]

A ditch is used regularly to irrigate fields, gardens, etc. Or yes, to get water from one place to another.

A barrow pit (didn't know it had a name) would be used for runoff during a heavy rain. or as a place to scrape heavy snow. Basically, without this drainage the water would just sit on the road and lead to yucky things like hydroplaning.

Squirrel Boy said... [reply]

I know we discussed barrow/borrow/burrow pit in one of my linguistics classes once. I don't remember any details aside from what you've already dug up, but I'll see if I can find some more.

Nemesis said... [reply]

I'm guessing our two anonymous visitors know what they're talking about. Thanks, anons!

Am still happy to hear other opinions. And does anyone have examples of other local words that they've come up against?

Desmama said... [reply]

If you ever encounter anyone from Newton (farther north), they really have such a distinct drawl. Don Norton once asserted that Jacalyn Leavitt sounded like she was a Southern Utah girl when no, in reality, she's just from Newton. It's really an interesting drawl--I'm not sure how it evolved.

My grandma still says things like "He come down here last week," and I imagine that's a local-ism.

Barrow pit. Hee.

amyjane said... [reply]

I have to admit, I grew up calling the ditch along the road the borrow pit which is how my dad said it because that was how his dad said it. We also regularly burned the weeds in the borrow pit so that new pretty weeds would grow there. And yeah, ditches usually contain irrigation waters on purpose, as opposed to the spring runoff that often collects in the borrow pits. My mother was sure we would try to go swimming and drown in the borrow pit every spring. So, I'm a little bit redneck, yes.

Science Teacher Mommy said... [reply]

I go for barrow pit. My dad is from Wellsville and I've often heard this term, though I've never used it.

Other CacheValleyisms:

warsh the laundry (on an old warshboard, presumably)

shut the door; were your barn in a barn (NOT a spelling error)

gosh-a-friday (no idea)

betite (I think this is the section of the store where short women shop)

Desmama may disagree: she is one of those snooty gals from M*****.

I remember getting home from my mission and the harshness of the Northern Utah accent was an assault on all my sensibilities. I thought I'd come home to a foreign country.

Science Teacher Mommy said... [reply]

Oh, and get some old-timers to tell you stories about water rights and witness the way they "irrigate" the gardens at any of the older homes around any of the small CV towns. You can still see ads of properties for sale in the classifieds that advertise a certain share of water rights along witht eh property.

miranda said... [reply]

my grandma (who grew up in the Salt Lake area in the 1930s and 1940s) goes to the bathroom on the "turlet" and eats with a "fark"

Jér said... [reply]

The "turlet/fark" dialect is still very much alive and well down in the Farks—American and Spanish, that is. And maybe other places? In Salt Lake now the language-butchering is more subtle.

Mad Hadder said... [reply]

Silly me. I thought it was called a borrow pit because perhaps sometimes you might need to "borrow" the space to drive your vehicle if heaven forbid someone ran you off the road. Honestly. But then of course, I thought you were baptised for the dead so that you could die. I was going to undermine that whole scene by just not doing it! Swimming in a borrow pit? That's just WRONG!

daltongirl said... [reply]

I grew up calling it a "bar pit." When I found out that the Utah kids were calling it "borrow pit," I assumed that this was another regional issue, and therefore one more way that I could demonstrate my superiority. After some heated arguing, I went to the OED, all smug. I seem to remember that borrow/barrow pit was the first thing that came up, and bar pit seems to have been derived from the borrow (or barrow) pit. I definitely remember that I felt sheepish, because the barrow pit thing came from England.


Jimmy said... [reply]

Can't offer much help on this one. I did however swerve to avoid an idiot jogger and wound up in Cleveland.
Don't think that's going to count though.

BEFore said... [reply]

Good to get that cleared up. :P

The nice thing about water rights is that you don't have to waste potable water on your garden. (You can also water with it during water-restricted times if there's a drought.)

vanilla said... [reply]

Though I see you wrote this some time back, I arrived here today because I found myself writing the term "barrow pit" in blog post to go up tomorrow. As I am a transplant to the Midwest from Colorado, I suspected that some of my readers might not "get it" so I googled the term and landed here!

Your first commenter, Anon, is correct. My Dad called it a "bar pit" but when he wrote a direction including the term, he spelled it "barrow pit." And that's the news from the High Plains of Colorado.

You have a fun blog here. I'll check it out more thoroughly as time permits!

Kay said... [reply]

I grew uo in Idaho. I was told my my Father that was in construstion and a farmer and others told me that the reasion it was called a Barrow-Pit is because in the beginning times of construction of roads they would barrow matrials from the sides of the road the "Barrow-Pit" to build the roads and that was why it was called a barrow pit. I ditch has always usally is used to direct water for drainage or irrigation. We have never called a ditch a Barrow-Pit. This term not is some what a term that is some what a slang from the real term as it was used in the real time of barrowing materials from the side of the road to make the road...

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