Never get stuck in a bunker again

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Today this ad popped up for me on a newspaper site:

So I tried to figure out how the mysterious object on the left could be used to tunnel out through concrete and earth, and how it could safely be combined with C-3 plastic explosive, and what all this has to do with the woman on the right brandishing a stick amid the explosion. I also wondered why exploding their way out of bomb shelters should be on peoples' minds these days.

Then I realized that it was about golf.

Of course, the word bunker is ambiguous: Wiktionary gives 10 senses:

  1. (military) A hardened shelter, often buried partly or fully underground, designed to protect the inhabitants from falling bombs or other attacks.
  2. (Britain) A large container or bin for storing coal, often built outside in the yard of a house. Now rare, as different types of fuels and energy sources are being used.
  3. (nautical) A container for storing coal or fuel oil for a ship's engine. [Also, by extension] the quantity of fuel needed to replenish that container.
  4. (rail transport) the coal compartment on a tank engine.
  5. (golf) A sand-filled hollow on a golf course.
  6. (paintball) An obstacle used to block an opposing player's view and field of fire.
  7. (Scotland) A sort of chest or box, as in a window, the lid of which serves for a seat.
  8. (Scotland, slang) A kitchen worktop.
  9. (Britain, slang) One who bunks off; a truant from school.
  10. Certain fish, menhaden.

It tells you something about me that it took me a few seconds to make the golf connection. But I'm glad to see that Wiktionary's ordering of the senses roughly accords with mine.



  1. Philip Taylor said,

    July 24, 2020 @ 8:32 am

    I would take exception with sense (2) "(Britain) A large container or bin for storing coal, often built outside in the yard of a house. Now rare, as different types of fuels and energy sources are being used". British houses don't have "yard"s, they have "garden"s.

  2. bill051 said,

    July 24, 2020 @ 9:13 am

    We used have a yard.The concreted area, between the house and the coal bunker. Usually called the back yard. This was 50 years ago near Liverpool, England. Lots of older terraced houses still have yards and no gardens.

    [(myl) Indeed, the OED's entry for yard, not updated since 1921, gives as the first sense "A comparatively small uncultivated area attached to a house or other building or enclosed by it", with citations from Beowulf through Walter Scott and Charles Dickens to Elizabeth Fowler.]

  3. Ross Presser said,

    July 24, 2020 @ 9:40 am

    I'm now amused to learn that "yard" and "garden" both derive from Proto-Germanic "*gardan-".

  4. Jen in Edinburgh said,

    July 24, 2020 @ 10:52 am

    I wouldn't have said that sense 8 was slang, although it is perhaps not a word with any aspirations to gentility.

  5. Brett said,

    July 24, 2020 @ 11:23 am

    @Ross Presser: Latin forum is cognate to English dooryard.

  6. Paul Turpin said,

    July 24, 2020 @ 11:32 am

    Yes, I think a garden is a yard with a patch of grass.

  7. Jen in Edinburgh said,

    July 24, 2020 @ 12:23 pm

    It would be unusual here for a house to have a yard – you have a garden (which might be shared, if it's a flat, and probably has flowers or vegetables in it), or a basement area (in which case I suppose your coal might go straight inside, although it's not something I have any experience of), or a back green/drying green (which might have a few flowers round the edges, but is essentially practical, and almost always shared). Or just a drive if you've paved it all, I suppose.

    All the same, a yard to me is essentially a type of garden, defining a garden as a piece of open ground attached to a house, whereas it seems that to Paul Turpin a garden is a type of yard.

  8. Gregory Kusnick said,

    July 24, 2020 @ 2:52 pm

    In my idiolect of US English, the patch of ground associated with a house is a yard. If some portion of it is planted with herbs, vegetables, and/or ornamental plants, that portion is a garden. A patch of grass is not a garden; it's a lawn.

  9. KeithB said,

    July 24, 2020 @ 3:31 pm

    You guys need to watch "Escape the the Country", now being shown on DABL.

    Phillip Tailor is right, every time they look at the area around the outside of the house, it is called "the garden."

  10. David Morris said,

    July 24, 2020 @ 5:16 pm

    Godwin's law.

  11. Trevor Anderson said,

    July 24, 2020 @ 5:29 pm

    Totally remember having a coal bunker 'oot the back'.
    Totally forgotten that for thirty-five years I called a countertop a bunker, too.
    And I _did_.

  12. John Shutt said,

    July 24, 2020 @ 7:12 pm

    I too had the wrong sense of "bunker", until I read the explanation. Perhaps stay-at-home pandemic counter-measures have us thinking in terms of shelters.

  13. Andrew Usher said,

    July 24, 2020 @ 8:02 pm

    I don't think I would have been misled. Surely, even if you don't play golf, you know people that do, and one should not be totally ignorant of it. Even for 'golf', though, 'never get stuck in a bunker' is a pretty odd thing to say – but it is advertising.

    As to 'yard' vs. 'garden', of course that's a well-known American/British difference. In America, 'yard' is always the general term for the maintained area of land around a house, Brits now prefer 'garden' for this. Given the other meanings, the British usage should be more likely to confuse Americans than the other way. And, too, I'd think the American pattern must be older given how many compounds of 'yard' English has, as opposed to the non-existence of any similar ones with 'garden'.

    k_over_hbarc at

  14. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 24, 2020 @ 9:47 pm

    Some quick and informal corpus linguistics suggests to me that in a golf context one more usually complains about being "stuck in the bunker," whereas "stuck in a bunker" is more likely to be a non-golf usage involving wiktionary's sense 1 or a metaphorical extension of it. But if myl's alibi is that he just doesn't follow golf or discussions about it, I don't know how plausible it is that the perhaps nonstandard (for golf) choice of article helped lead him down the wrong pathway here.

    [(myl) My default sense for bunker is the "hardened shelter" one, courtesy of the U.S. Army. The "C3" image on the right of the ad fed into that sense, and the club-head image on the left looked to me like some kind of weird scribing tool. My modest acquaintance with golf lingo has sand trap somewhat ahead of bunker for referring to those "sand-filled hollows". So putting it all together, I spent a couple of seconds wondering how plastic explosives and a scribing tool could be combined to bust out of a bomb shelter — and why someone would have gotten stuck in there to start with. In my defense, that would not be the weirdest thing on the internet these days.]

  15. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 24, 2020 @ 10:05 pm

    FWIW I have never been a golfer but I do have hands-on experience with that sort of bunker on account of having spent a long-ago summer as a teenager working on the grounds crew of a country club in Kennett Square, Pa. We would rake them first thing in the morning (trying to make the sand both fluffy and smooth) as we made our initial circuit around the course watering the greens (we clocked in an hour before the earliest tee time, to stay ahead of the actual golfers). Except I feel through the haze of unreliable memory that when we had occasion to speak about them we said "sand trap" much more frequently than "bunker." Assuming that's accurate, I don't know if that's a Am v. Br distinction, a social-class distinction, or what. That golf course was barely 30 miles WSW of the UPenn campus, but I don't know if Bill Labov was sending grad students out to Chester County to investigate the local golf dialect.

  16. Jon said,

    July 25, 2020 @ 1:01 am

    Contrary to the common British/US difference, there is this, from
    "Kailyard school, late 19th-century movement in Scottish fiction characterized by a sentimental idealization of humble village life. Its name derives from the Scottish "kail-yard," a small cabbage patch usually adjacent to a cottage."

  17. Philip Taylor said,

    July 25, 2020 @ 3:28 am

    The OED does indeed confirm "kaleyard/kailyard", as follows :

    kale-yard | kail-yard, n.
    Pronunciation: Brit. /ˈkeɪljɑːrd/, U.S. /ˈkeɪlˌjɑrd/, Scottish/ˈkeljard/
    Frequency (in current use): 2 / 8
    Etymology: < kale n. + yard n.1 The strictly Scots form is kail yaird/kelˈjɛrd/.

    1. A cabbage-garden, kitchen-garden, such as is commonly attached to a small cottage.

    So my opening comment was a little OTT, but in general British homes have gardens (which are referred to as such, no matter how untidy or uncultivated) whilst in general American homes have yards.

  18. Anthea Fleming said,

    July 25, 2020 @ 4:23 am

    In my Australian suburban life, I have a front-garden between the house and the street, and a back-yard behind, in which I could make a vegetable garden if I had the energy. But if I lived in the country, I might well have a cow-yard,and a horse-yard, and I might well yard (verb)
    the sheep for shearing, crutching and drenching. Oddly enough, poultry are kept in a chook-run.

  19. Alexander Browne said,

    July 25, 2020 @ 7:31 am

    There's also the more general "barnyard", although I come across that word more as an adjective, like in "barnyard smell", than as a noun.

  20. KevinM said,

    July 25, 2020 @ 10:45 am

    I thought of the baseball expression, to "go yard" (hit a home run). One possible etymology is that it means simply to hit the ball the length of the field, or yard. Thing is, the expression is of comparatively recent origin, and I've seldom heard anyone in modern times call a baseball field a "yard." Still, somebody at ESPN might have been just straining for novelty. More interesting is the happenstance that some stadiums are built on the sites of former "yards," e.g., rail yards or stockyards (like Camden Yards, Comiskey). To "go yard" might then mean to hit the ball out of the stadium and into the old yard (allowing for the usual sportscaster exaggeration; they don't actually tear the cover off the ball, either). Here's a fan discussion.

  21. Robot Therapist said,

    July 25, 2020 @ 1:57 pm

    The "C3" led me astray too.

  22. Xeger said,

    July 25, 2020 @ 5:45 pm

    I'm amused that the "military" and "paintball" uses have distinct definitions despite the fact that paintball is a simulacrum of military activity.

    In the interest of parity I looked up "marker" and lo, the paintball usage (i.e. a compressed-air gun that shoots paintballs) is covered there as well:

    It seems that some Wiktionarist is a big paintball fan.

  23. Gregory Kusnick said,

    July 25, 2020 @ 8:00 pm

    Now I find myself wondering which of the ten varieties of bunker Bunker Hill was named for. As far as I can discover, no bunkers (of any kind) were built there during the famous battle, which actually happened on nearby Breed's Hill.

  24. Philip Taylor said,

    July 26, 2020 @ 5:03 am

    According to the Bunker Family Association web site,

    George Bunker gave the hill its name, as he and his descendants owned its land many years before the battle. A 1931 typed volume of Bunker genealogy states: "The land assigned to George Bunker extended from Main Street in the south, over the hill back of it to the north to Mystic River.

  25. Gregory Kusnick said,

    July 26, 2020 @ 9:18 am

    Thank you, Philip.

    This of course raises the question of how George Bunker got his name. One hopes it was not from sense #9.

  26. Andrew Usher said,

    July 26, 2020 @ 7:29 pm

    'Sand trap' versus 'bunker' in the golf sense might be worthy of study – I'm familar with both terms, of course, and it seems to me that, generally, 'bunker' is what they say on TV while 'sand trap' is what ordinary golfers say. A regional variation is quite possible here.

    No, a baseball field is not usually called a 'yard', but the word would be understood in that sense, and it does seem that 'go yard' must be drived from 'hit it out of the yard' or similar.

    It actually is possible to 'tear the cover off the ball' (partially, anyway) if the seam is hit just right, and presumably this happened much more with the less consistent balls of the 19th century. So the expression is probably not entirely figurative.

  27. Thomas Rees said,

    July 27, 2020 @ 2:37 pm

    @Gregory Kusnick:
    Supposedly, the surname Bunker is Norman, from “bon cœur”. It’s possible; surname etymologies are often surprising.

    @KevinM, Andrew Usher:
    What about Caribbean “yard” = one’s dwelling, “home”?

  28. iain said,

    July 27, 2020 @ 4:27 pm

    My Gran in Edinburgh had a bunker in her kitchen and a coal bunker in the back green which was sometimes the back yard

    and there was a type of Scottish novel writing which was called the kailyard school

  29. Philip Taylor said,

    July 28, 2020 @ 2:50 am

    Thomas Rees's note that « Caribbean “yard” = one’s dwelling, “home” » reminded me of the term "Yardie", about which I then consulted Wikipedia. The article is very informative and interesting.

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