Bocage is a Norman word which has entered both the French and English languages. It may refer to a small forest, a decorative element of leaves, a terrain of mixed woodland and pasture, or a type of rubble-work, comparable with the English use of 'rustic' in relation to garden ornamentation.
Bocage is a Norman word that comes from the Old Norman boscage (Anglo-Norman boscage, Old French boschage), from the Old French root bosc ("wood") > Modern French bois ("wood") cf. Medieval Latin boscus (first mentioned in 704 AD). The Norman place names retain it as Bosc-, -bosc, Bosc-, pronounced traditionally [bɔk] or [bo]. The suffix -age means "a general thing". The boscage form was used in English for leafy decoration such as is found on eighteenth-century porcelain. Similar words occur in Scandinavian (cf. Swedish buskage) and other Germanic languages; the original root is thought to be the Proto-Germanic *bŏsk-. The boscage form seems to have developed its meaning under the influence of eighteenth-century romanticism.
In English bocage refers to a terrain of mixed woodland and pasture, with fields and winding country lanes sunken between narrow low ridges and banks surmounted by tall thick hedgerows that break the wind but also limit visibility. It is the sort of landscape found in England in Devon. In Normandy, it acquired a particular significance during the Battle of Normandy, as it made progress against the German defenders difficult. American personnel usually referred to bocage as hedgerows.
The 1934 Nouveau Petit Larousse defined bocage as 'a bosquet, a little wood, an agreeably shady wood' and a bosquet as a little wood, a clump of trees'. By 2006, the Petit Larousse definition had become '(Norman word) Region where the fields and meadows are enclosed by earth banks carrying hedges or rows of trees and where the habitation is generally dispersed in farms and hamlets.'
- Oxford English Dictionary
- Nouveau Petit Larousse Illustré (1934)
- Petit Larousse Illustré 2007 (2006)