Looking at the word crocket (a Gothic architectural ornament of curled leaves) last week reminded me of a similar looking word: cricket. While I doubt that too many readers had come across crocket before, I imagine that a good portion of North American readers who work on roofs will be familiar with a cricket.
Those from the Commonwealth countries, excluding Canuckistan, will probably think of the sport cricket upon initial mention of the term. And I’m sure all readers are familiar enough with the insect species we refer to as crickets. The word ‘cricket’ as I’m about to describe however is neither a sport nor a bug.
noun. a small roof placed on a sloping roof for diverting rain water around an obstruction, like a chimney.
Here’s a cricket:
The above illustration culled from eco build trends website.
Here’s another, from ‘Jeromeboisdebout’s site:
The OED provides no help at all, as ‘cricket’ in the roofing sense of the term, seems to be an artifact of English usage in North America. Even at that, a look in the unabridged Websters states “of uncertain origin”. I like a challenge, so I did some digging in hope of getting a little closer to the answer. It seems that no one knows exactly where this term comes from, though there are theories. What is it with these seemingly esoteric carpentry words? Don’t the dictionary people ever look in Builder’s and roofers manuals?
While the two primary definitions for a ‘cricket’ are the sport and the insect, a third definition appears in several dictionaries, from both sides of the pond:
Cricket. noun. A small low stool [1635~45; of obscure origin; comes from cracket, with same sense.
We also have a cricket table, which is “a three-legged table of the Jacobean Period”. That table, it turns out, often has a foldable top. They were popular in pubs as the three legs enabled them to sit will on uneven floors. Here’s an example of an 18th century cricket table:
Noting from the dictionary that ‘cricket’ as a three-legged stool comes from the word ‘cracket’, and then finding the dictionary provides no definition anywhere for cracket, I looked up the word elsewhere. It turns out that a ‘cracket’, sometimes spelled ‘crackett’, is a low tripod stool, often with a sloped seat, used as a prop or rest by coal miners working a seam at an awkward height. here’s an example:
Well, that’s interesting and all, but hardly conclusive. Another point worth mentioning is that another word used in place of cricket is saddle, which is of course both something one sits on and something which itself sides astride something, be it a horse’s back or, in the case of a saddle bag, slung over the shoulder at times.
I thought I’d take a look and see what the French term for ‘cricket’ might be, given that French is the source for so many carpentry words, including the word carpentry. The French term for this roofing component is besace. It turns out that the use of the word besace in the roofing sense is also an atypical use of the word in the French language – normally the term refers to a wallet or saddle bag. Possibly, like the word cricket (roof diverter) in English, I suspect most French people wouldn’t know that definition for besace, and probably wouldn’t know there was such a thing up on a roof in the first place. Digging into the etymology of the word besace, I found that it comes from the Latin bisaccium, which means “doubled bag”, or a “pair of saddle bags”. A rare word in Latin apparently.
So, while I cannot state this conclusively, it appears to me that the tie-in between very form of the cricket as roof diverter, the alternate word for the device being saddle, the shape of the miner’s cracket having a sloped surface, and the cricket table having three legs to perch on an uneven surface is likely associated in some way. How exactly these terms might tie together, and determining when the term ‘cricket’ entered the lexicon as a word for this roofing component, would require further digging and investigation. If you have any 19th century roofing or carpentry texts, or 19th century dictionaries, see if you can find any mention of ‘cricket’.
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