Daily Archives: July 29, 2015


It’s true that when I was a minor I was often more than a little brattish. However, I did not like when others pointed it out, as my brother often did. Reg, three years my elder, often used his seniority as cause and means to torment me, and the fact that our rooms were divided by the merest of partitions – well, a standard domestic wall made of drywall, but not a very effective sound barrier – meant that a lot of venting went on, especially when he did such things as making a three-minute loop tape of himself whispering loudly “Jamie is a brat, a brat, a brat” and playing it at full volume on the other side of the wall. My dirty dark room became the pit of my despair, and I didn’t dig it.

So when I see the word brattice, it inevitably comes with a bitter taste of youthful torment. It’s no minor thing. However, it is a miner thing. Specifically, a brattice is a partition at the bottom of a mine shaft – most typically made of boards – to keep the outbound and inbound ventilation separate. (Better-made mines have two shafts.) It can also refer to other similar walls of planking. I can’t help having an image of it as some sort of lattice, thanks to the word form, but it’s not. It’s solid enough, although it can be makeshift. Indeed, the first sense of brattice – now obsolete – was a temporary wooden structure added to fortress battlements for use during a siege. Its etymology is convoluted and a bit brutish, or at least brutesche (one ancient spelling), but it comes by way of French and perhaps before that German. Other accepted modern versions of the word are brettis and brattish. Fair enough: a brattish is stiff boards, and I was brattish because I was bored stiff.

In its role as a ventilation partition, a brattice would typically have cool, fresh air on one side and hot, stale air on the other. As I am building a hasty analogy between it and the wall between my bedroom and my brother’s, you can easily guess which side I wish to present as being cool and fresh and which as being assailed by intolerable stale hot air. My brother’s puerile pesterings have poisoned even the word bratwurst for me, though I love a good sausage so much I can ignore the name. But I will tell you this: I may have been the worst brat, but my brother was a wiener.