neck of the woods

Neck has been used to refer to a narrow stretch of land or geographic feature such as woods or a meadow, so called because the narrow strip resembles the neck of an animal. The use dates to at least 1637 when it appears in the records of the town of Dedham, Massachusetts:

Graunted to Samuell Morse yt necke of medowe lying next unto ye medowes graunted unto Edward Alleyn.

The phrase neck of wood appears as early as 1780 in Arthur Young’s A Tour of Ireland:

You see three other necks of wood,...generally giving a deep shade.

By the mid-19th century, the phrase neck of the woods was being used to apply to a small and isolated community and eventually more generally to any neighborhood or region. From the Spirit of the Times of 16 June 1839:

If yourself and Oliver don’t make folks open their eyes in this neck of the woods (as we say in the Hooshier [sic] State).

(Sources: Oxford English Dictionary, New Edition; Historical Dictionary of American Slang)

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