September 23, 2015

[Preservation Glossary] Today's Term: Jerkinhead

  • By: Nick Totten

A home in western Pennsylvania, with two examples of jerkinhead.

This curious term came as a suggestion from one of our readers. Where could we have gotten such a funny-sounding word, and what could it mean?

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) provides a simple definition:

Jerkinhead, noun

The end of a roof that is hipped [sloped] for only part of its height, leaving a truncated gable. Also called half-hip.

Though this word has uncertain origins, the OED explains that it could have been a variation of kirkin-head, in which we find kirk, an old Scots variation of the word church. Perhaps sloped gables first appeared on the heads, or roofs, of churches, but there seems to be no clear evidence of this. Another possibility is that the slope of the roof was considered to be “jerkily” interrupted.

Word in Use: “The jerkinhead gable was frequently used by Gilbert Stanley Underwood, who designed park lodges for the Utah Parks Company in the mid-1920s, and was promoted by Herbert Maier for use in state park structures.” — Linda Flint McClelland, Building the National Parks: Historic Landscape Design and Construction, p.99.

Jerkinhead. Half-hip. Clipped-gable. Whatever you want to call it, there are many examples of it that persist today. It is particularly common in Great Britain and Western Europe, though there are many examples in the United States as well.

Nick Totten was an editorial intern at the National Trust. He takes particular delight in historic museums and libraries. In addition, he enjoys performing music, playing with words, and appreciating the local sites and views on foot.

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