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I have been interested in the expression "dooryard stop" recently. This is an expression that is used to describe a short visit in someone's dooryard (driveway) that often means not staying long enough to even get out of the car. It is the opposite of what could be called conversational dieseling.

I have used it all my life, and only recently learned that it is native to Maine (my home state), and pretty much no one else has ever heard of it. I find this peculiar.

My first thought was that dooryard was a hold over from our English roots, but the Free Dictionary indicates that it is "US and Canadian" usage. (I suppose if you overlap the US and Canada, you get Maine.) Indeed, Urban Dictionary describes is usage as limited to Aroostook County, the northernmost part of Maine along the Quebec border.

Merriam-Webster puts its first recorded use around 1764 and draws the parallel with barnyard and backyard, and describes it as the yard in front of the door of the house. I believe that nowadays, Mainers would tell you it means the same thing as driveway, which makes sense given that the driveway usually runs beside the kitchen door of the houses here, which would be the entrance for informal guests.

Can anyone tell me more about the history of this word, and does anyone know about the actual extent of its usage? I have a hard time believing such a simply formed word is restricted to such a small population.

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Just a personal anecdote for what it's worth -- I've lived in lots of places across the US and never heard the word "dooryard" outside the movie Bounce (which made kind of a running joke out of the fact that nobody knew what a 'dooryard' was :)) –  Lynn Dec 27 '12 at 2:58
    
I, too, have lived in many places in the U.S., including northern Massachusetts, and I can't recall hearing this. Based on the information you've given, I would have postulated it referred to those little gates along a front-yard fence, like this. –  J.R. Dec 27 '12 at 3:13
    
Do you have lilacs in your driveway? –  GEdgar Dec 27 '12 at 13:51

5 Answers 5

up vote 8 down vote accepted

OED 1 defines it as “U.S. A yard or garden-patch about the door of a house” and offers the following citations:

c. 1764 in T. D. Woolsey in Hist. Disc. [...] The Freshmen ... are forbidden to wear their hats ... in the front door-yard of the President’s or Professor’s house. 1854 Lowell Cambr (Mass.) 30 Yrs. Ago [...] The flowers which decked his little door-yard.  1878 Emerson in N. Amer. Rev. [...] We send to England for shrubs, which grow as well in our own door-yards and cow-pastures.  1913 R. Frost Boy’s Will 9 How drifts are piled, Dooryards and roads ungraded. 1941 T. S. Eliot Dry Salvages [...] The rank ailanthus of the April dooryard.

I note that all of these except the Eliot are from Yankee sources; and although Eliot was born and raised in St. Louis, his parents were New Englanders.

However, probably the most famous use of the word is Walt Whitman’s elegy on Lincoln, When Lilacs Last in the the Door-yard Bloom’d—and Whitman lived his whole life on Long Island and in Camden, New Jersey, except for a brief period during and immediately after the Civil War.

EDIT:
A posting on rootweb.com, Some Old Houses in Readfield, Maine, describes the evolution of Maine architecture and provides detail about the origin of “door yard call”:

Over time [...] men could find time to make additions and improvements to the log cabins — sometimes the original cabin became an outbuilding, and a finer house was built. Sometimes the original cabin was enveloped, and a century later the unsuspecting eye would never have guessed that a log cabin was nestled inside a lovely Victorian structure. In the mid 19th century it became common in Maine to build a summer kitchen, shed and barn onto the house (usually a cape cod style house) creating a “big house, little house, back house, barn” effect. This architectural style caught on about the time of the mass exodus west, and at the beginning of the agricultural decline in Maine, thus our extended farm buildings are rarely seen in the rest of the USA. The disadvantage was, of course, threat of fire which would destroy the whole farm, and the smells and flies that went with an attached barn. Some of the advantages were easy accessibility to the barn, animals, food storage areas, milk room and sleigh in the winter; protection from the winter winds both outside and in, added warmth for the animals; and last but not least an indoor trek to the privy at the back of the barn or shed. If you mention a door yard in another part of the country chances are they will not know what you are referring to. With the extended farm buildings there were three yards: the front yard by the parlor where special guests were greeted, the barn yard where the men did their farm chores, and the door yard by the shed or summer kitchen where women did laundry, planted and tended their kitchen garden and did other woman's work. Sometimes we still hear the term “door yard call”, and now you know the origin — you wouldn't want to disturb someone for any length of time while they were working so you just stop for a moment on your way by for a quick hello in the yard — you made a “door yard call” .

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Wait... On Long Island and in Brooklyn and in Camden? Is that 3 places or two? –  Mitch Dec 27 '12 at 12:05
    
@Mitch Good catch - I'll fix it. (His family moved from West Hills to Brooklyn when he was four.) –  StoneyB Dec 27 '12 at 12:12
    
Wow. I had no idea that particular architecture was unique to the area. In fact, I live in such a house. Thanks for the great citation! –  KitFox Dec 27 '12 at 13:30
    
@KitFox I was pleased, too, not least because it clarified that odd-appearing Emerson citation, which associates door-yards and cow-pastures. –  StoneyB Dec 27 '12 at 13:36
    
While Brooklyn is technically on Long Island, New Yorkers don't consider it to be so. What New Yorkers call Long Island begins at the eastern boundary of the borough of Queens. –  Peter Shor Dec 27 '12 at 14:15

Your dooryard stop sounds a bit like a whistle stop to me. I do not have at my fingertips the Dictionary of American Regional English, but that is the go-to place for studying such regional usage, particularly where the same thing goes by different terms all over. The entirety of the OED2’s entry for the word is as follows:

ˈdoor-yard. U.S. A yard or garden-patch about the door of a house.

  • C. 1764 in T. D. Woolsey Hist. Disc. (1850) 54 ― The Freshmen ··are forbidden to wear their hats··in the front door‐yard of the President’s or Professor’s house.
  • 1854 Lowell Cambr. (Mass.) 30 Yrs. Ago Prose Wks. 1890 I. 59 ― The flowers which decked his little door-yard.
  • 1878 Emerson in N. Amer. Rev. CXXVI. 412 ― We send to England for shrubs, which grow as well in our own door‐yards and cow-pastures.
  • 1913 R. Frost Boy’s Will 9 ― How drifts are piled, Dooryard and road ungraded.
  • 1941 T. S. Eliot Dry Salvages i. 7 ― The rank ailanthus of the April dooryard.

Pity about the first citation and being forbidden to wear any hats resulting from this question if you are a Freshwoman. :)


EDIT: I found a wee bit of the aforementioned DARE online here, where it mentions these in the section on New England:

doorstone n • chiefly NEng
dooryard n • chiefly NEng, NY
dooryard call n • NEng

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Thanks for the OED citation. I don't know about Woolsey, but those others are all New Englanders with strong Maine ties, if I'm not mistaken. Forbidden in the dooryard...must be chat? –  KitFox Dec 27 '12 at 1:50
    
You beat me ... would you care to incorporate the Whitman (which is brought in with the others by DARE), and I'll kill mine? –  StoneyB Dec 27 '12 at 2:08
    
@StoneyB That is very kind of you, but I am not very comfortable with pillaging other people’s answers to beef up my own. It feels a little off to me, even with your blessing. I do like your Whitman reference. –  tchrist Dec 27 '12 at 10:36

The Chronicling America newspaper archives covers 1836 - 1922. The earliest 500 results for dooryard (removing duplicates) are found between 1836 and 1875 and are from these states:

door-yard states

  1. OH: 151
  2. VT: 88
  3. PA: 66
  4. TN: 40
  5. KS: 30
  6. NY: 24
  7. MO: 21
  8. MN: 10
  9. OR: 14
  10. LA: 8
  11. VA: 8
  12. DC: 7
  13. NE: 7
  14. IL: 3
  15. AZ: 1
  16. CA: 1
  17. HA: 1
  18. KY: 1
  19. MT: 1
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Always, When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd summoned up a familiar image of a tiny yard (front or back) of an urban row house in an old city like Washington, D.C.

I live in Washington, D.C. and it's now late April. The lilacs in my door yard are in full bloom, as they must have been when Whitman began work on that poem. Whitman spent the Civil War years living in Washington. For me, thanks for Whitman's poem, as for Whitman, the lilacs' bloom always brings to mind that tragic month in our history.

But I grew up on Long Island. I played football and ran track meets as a visitor at Walt Whitman High School in South Huntington. My guess is that I had run across "dooryard" as a child on Long Island. Maybe Whitman did as well.

See Daniel Marck Epstein, Lincoln and Whitman (2004).

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I found this site because I’m reading EGGS IN THE COFFEE, SHEEP IN THE CORN: My 17 Years as a Farmwife by Marjorie Myers Douglas (1994). She moved to her in-laws’ farm in western Minnesota in 1943 after growing up a city-girl in Minneapolis and a two-year career as a social worker in New York City.

She wrote (on page 8):

To do our laundry, Mother Douglas and I carried water from the pump, which stood across the dooryard and the driveway, between the stock tank and the garden.

I was curious about a more precise definition of dooryard. It seems that this was common terminology for her life on the farm. Unlike the information from Maine, it seems that in western Minnesota, dooryard and driveway do not coincide.

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If you have a new question, please ask it by clicking the Ask Question button. Include a link to this question if it helps provide context. –  Rory Alsop May 23 at 8:08

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