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Ha-ha wall (wikipedia.org)
592 points by EndXA on Aug 24, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 110 comments

See also the 'Punic ditch'. I can't find a good description online ([1] is the most specific), but basically it's a fortification comprising a human-scale haha with the wall on the outward side, and the slope on the inward side. The idea is that attackers can cross it easily, by jumping down the wall, then charging up the slope, at which point you open fire on them, then when they turn to run way, they have to climb up the wall to escape, at which point they are sitting ducks.

These ditches are called Punic not because they were invented by the Carthaginians (Punic is the adjective for things from Carthage, don't ask me why), but because they were incredibly brutal, and Rome's early wars with Carthage were so horrific, they became a byword for anything eye-wateringly cruel like this.

[1] https://luntfort.wordpress.com/2012/11/28/punic-ditches/

Punic derives from the same etymology as Phoenicians, Carthage was founded by Phoenicians.


Basically, Latin version of Greek version of Phoenician.

Punic refers to the people. Carthage was the name of their city, so they're also referred to as Carthaginians (see also: New Yorkers, Londoners, Dubliners, Parisians, etc.).

You chose some relatively ordinary demonyms, these are some fun ones: Mancunian, Muscovite, Liverpudlian, Glaswegian, Munsonian, Buddies.

People from Cambridge are Cantabrigians.

And their perennial rivals from Oxford are Oxonians. The English class and education systems being what they are, many in both categories will have been students at Winchester College (a "public school", which is to say an old, prestigious, expensive private school), which makes them Wykehamists. If not, perhaps they went to another public school, Shrewsbury School; its students, and people from the county of Shropshire, are of course Salopians.

England is particularly good (if that's the right word) at these but it's not alone. If you're from Buenos Aires then you're a Porteño (because it's a _port_). If you're from Christchurch then you're a Cantabrian (because of a historical association with Canterbury in the UK). If you come from Rio de Janeiro then you're a Carioca (from the name of a tribe that lived there before the Portuguese invaded).

I know the rest of these, but Buddies is a new one; to whom does it refer?

Many thanks!

I was _almost_ sure it goes right alongside “fwiend” and referred to Canadians... Facts FTW

‘Muscovite’ is from ‘Muscovy’, denoting the Middle-Ages' Duchy of Moscow and in turn descending from Latin ‘Moscoviae’.

Since English has chronic trouble mapping sounds, especially vowels, that are fundamental for Russian, ‘Muscovy’ is in fact a rather reasonable approximation. ‘Moscovia’ would be better, but alas. It's like we're seeing different fundamental colors―which we sort of do with English ‘indigo’ and Russian ‘light-blue’ (the latter being close to Newton's ‘blue’).

Quoting https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ROYGBIV (emphasis mine):

> Newton divided his color circle, which he constructed to explain additive color mixing, into seven colors. His color sequence including the tertiary color indigo is kept alive today by the Roy G. Biv mnemonic. Originally he used only five colors, but later he added orange and indigo to match the number of musical notes in the major scale.

So, the concept of there being uniquely-important indigo (and orange!) points on the hue spectrum were just, kinda... made up, as a bit of numerological whimsy, by Isaac Newton. And everyone else in the Western world just followed his lead, because he seemed to know what he was talking about.

I would note that no English-speaker actually seems to describe anything as “indigo” in practice. People do tend to describe plenty of things as “light blue”, though! We get taught “ROY G BIV” in kindergarten, but we basically ignore it, because it doesn’t actually fit anything else we get taught. (I don’t even recall any children’s picture books that bother with examples of “indigo” objects.)

IMHO, there’s also a much more fundamental distinction made in English-in-practice, between three kinds of green: yellow-green (“spring green”, “olive green” when desaturated), “green green”†, and blue-green (“sea blue”, cyan, turquoise.) Many people will insist that, if orange is a separate color from yellow or red, then yellow-green and green-blue are separate colors as well.


ROY G BIV... I still use that about once a year (I'm 71).



Quote of the day:

"poems by the Anglo-Saxon scholar the Venerable Bede translate more successfully into Geordie than into Standard English"

The Venerable Bede will for evermore have a Geordie accent.

I also like to call people for Norfolk, Norfolk (as in folk), I don't think that's standard though.

And let us not forget their neighbouring tribe, the Mackems!

Burqueño, which comes from both the Spanish convention and a slang term (with some history grounding), but is extremely widely used.

I’m a proud Loiner.


loa angeleno

Punic can also mean “treacherous”, presumably because of the Roman opinion of their adversary.


Oh, maybe it's called a Punic ditch because it's treacherous, rather than brutal? My memory of this is dim.

It made me wonder whether "punic" was the root of words like "punish" and "punitive". But there seems to be no connection. http://www.fantasy-writers.org/forum/question-about-word-pun...

Seems pretty irrelevant if you've got the numbers on the defenders. Just don't retreat and throw bodies into the wide open breach. You'd drive right over just fine like a spike strip facing the wrong way.

The ditch itself is also filled with caltrops and ankle breaking traps. The fortifications behind the ditch usually involved a wooden palisade or stone walls. Even so, these defenses were generally for defending against small groups of loosely organized attackers. If a large force attacked, infantry and cavalry would deploy to the field to oppose the enemy with the fort perhaps protecting a flank or offering other strategic support.

Typically a Punic Ditch would be used in front of the walls of a fortification.

The ancient world’s dark pattern.

Yes, likely the inventors' ancestors now work for Facebook or EA.

Maybe IKEA, since they make it so difficult to leave.

If the inventors were from the ancient world, then to have ancestors of theirs working at Facebook is the bomb, dude!

I have a hard time understanding this. Do you have a simple drawing for this?

Basically just a ha-ha but reversed so that it’s easy to get in but difficult to get out.

Always bring ladders.

"The personal injury team at Penningtons Manches LLP has successfully negotiated a settlement of over £10,000 for a client who was injured during a wedding at a prestigious county manor house.

The claimant attended the wedding with her partner in September 2014. They decided to leave the celebrations at around 11:30pm and make their way back to their on-site accommodation. The claimant was required to walk across the manor garden in order to reach her room. Unfortunately, there was inadequate lighting along the route and they found the lawn to be in darkness, with only a small light in the far distance to guide them. Due to the poorly lit area, the claimant walked from the lawn and over the top of a brick wall, falling 3 feet downwards into the grass area of a 'ha-ha'."

In a similar case:

> The presiding QC judge, Alastair Campbell, deemed a ha-ha wall to be outside the scope of the law regarding obvious dangers, such as cliffs or canals, where an occupier is not required to take precautions against a person being injured. This was due to it being an unusual man-made feature that the public would be very much unaware of, especially across a wide lawn.

which I find an odd decision. I didn't know what they were called (so I followed the link curiously) but certainly I'd expect one at a house such as that. Unusual for the average dwelling, sure, but not 'across a wide lawn' or at a property with a wide lawn for it to be across.

They're not just to protect from animals. You'll often find them in gardens where the area below isn't even open to livestock. The other reason for these is to hide unsightly parts of the view. If there is a road, village or other buildings in front of the house, for example, building a ha-ha could make it look like the park stretches unbroken to the horizon. It could also make it look like distant hillsides are part of your park if your own land is a little on the small side.

Source: my wife is a landscape archaeologist, specialising in post-medieval parks. We visit a lot of stately homes.

And in Ankh Morpork, there's the hoho: A cunningly designed ditch like a Haha, only the Hoho is 50 feet deep. Has claimed three Palace gardeners. Also once trapped Dr. Cruces, then head of the Assassins' Guild.

Yep, and as mentioned in the article, there's also a he-he. A description is never given of it, but it's a safe assumption that it's a tiny haha, possibly only a couple inches high.

Interestingly, if this is accurate, it means that the front/backness of the vowel in hehe/haha/hoho correlates with its size.

A Hon-Hon is a Ha-Ha where the incline leads directly into a tunnel.

And the chon-honnel is the one from France to England

Unfortunately due to escalating tensions, the ‘ke-ke’ became known as a Demilitarized Zone.

Iirc correctly a hoho is like a haha just deeper.

Designed by, of course, Bergholt Stuttley "Bloody Stupid" Johnson!

Who is based on Lancelot "Capability" Brown who really brought the ha-ha to its fore in England.

God I miss Pratchett's satire.

The examples section on the Wikipedia page feels rather poor. The first example is a photo from the back (where the wall cannot actually be seen) and needs to be supplemented with a picture from the front, so you can actually see what the structure is! The other examples just look like standard walls.

The diagram at the top does get the idea across though.

I disagree, but regardless, this sounds more like a comment for the article's Talk page instead of HN. Better yet, you could go find better examples (with a free license) or take your own and add them to the article.

Contributing to Wikipedia is quite fun and not enough people do it. You don't even need to make an account.

While my comment may fit well on article's talk page, I don't think it's off topic here. A few upvotes agree.

I contribute to Wikipedia already by improving maths articles, so I know the process. Your comment appears to have incorrectly assumed certain things, and worse still, you've tried to educate me in a rather patronising manner. I don't think that's in the spirit of HN.

> Contributing to Wikipedia is quite fun and not enough people do it. You don't even need to make an account.

How is this not in the spirit of HN? Sure you might already know, but are we not to share knowledge/opinion because readers might already know it?

Plus, other people (like me) also read these comments, and they might lack relevant knowledge... educating is not a bad thing.

Educating is a great thing. Patronising not so much.

If the OP's comment is for the good of the wider community, it should probably not contain a friendly yet subtle insult to the tune of "rather than just criticising, get off your backside and do something about it, you might even enjoy it".

And I'd be very surprised if someone reading HN is unaware that Wikipedia can be edited...

I did not find the comment patronizing. Assuming bad intent on the part of other commentators is ALSO not in the HN spirit.

How is it not patronising?! The person is telling me that they disagree with my viewpoint - and rather than then explaining why they disagree, they decide to explain to me that I can edit Wikipedia! To me, that is patronising.

While their language is mild and friendly, their message is utterly patronising.

> To me, that is patronising.

To me, that is not patronizing. Just like your original comment about the photos and the original reply, this is all subjective.

That you chose to take offense to subjective, measured comments is something you may want to spend time considering.

I disagree, but regardless, this sounds more like a comment for Reddit instead of HN. Better yet, rather than criticising my interpretation, you could go find examples of better comments and enjoy reading them at your leisure. Or you could even come up with your own and add them to the HN page. Contributing to HN is quite fun and not enough people do it. You do need to make an account, but it's free and only takes a sec. -- Sound familiar? Do you feel patronised at all?

The comment reads:

> you could go find better examples (with a free license) or take your own and add them to the article.


> they decide to explain to me that I can edit Wikipedia!

is simply untrue. Had that been the case, I’m sure everyone would agree it was patronising.

However it does not say "you can edit Wikipedia," more like "if you think there is a problem, you are free to fix the problem."

Indeed English can be ambiguous, but I do not think that can be interpreted as patronizing.

In the spirit of Wikipedia, I'd suggest assuming good will...

I was a bit surprised to find that Bellevue Pallace (residence of the German head of state) isn't even listed in the German wiki as an example. For me, that was the first building that came to my mind. The Ha-Ha there also has the benefit that you have a nice incline to lay on and look at the protected estate.

In Quebec, there's a town named Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! for similar reasons (as well as two Baie des Ha! Ha! and one Rivière Ha! Ha!).


I did not know what a ha-ha wall was until a few months ago when we happened to pass by Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! while driving from New Brunswick to Montreal. It's right on the Transcanadian Highway route so hard to miss. To be sure a few laughs were had when we saw the town's name.

A small youtube channel I follow just posted a video about these- specifically one next to an unfriendly military base on a street aptly named “ha ha road”.


I live right across the street from there.

The video obviously explains the history of this military base, but what the ha-ha "protects" nowadays is actually not a firing range but a football/cricket pitch and some other MOD sports facilities that are open to the public. I'm using them several times a week. You can also book the space for events.

So fortunately this area is not quite as scary and unfriendly as it appears in the vid. Sadly, the sheep were all scared off. No trace of them, ha ha.

These are quite common in Gloucestershire but you would not know it unless you have some reason to be invited to the big houses that have estates.

The health and safety considerations cited in the Wikipedia page don't apply to the ha-ha walls that are situated in sizeable estates. The big house, the extensive gardens and the fields beyond are owned by the same family. It has all been inherited rather than bought with 'new money'. The family and the staff know where the wall is and random members of the public just don't have access to the area, in part because of the ha-ha. The surrounding fields are not open to the public either.

Others may use the ha-ha in a modern context to hide a car park in a hilly city setting but this is not a true ha-ha wall. These fake ha-ha walls are also for postage stamp sized plots of land. A real ha-ha is at the end of formal gardens that are so big that only gardening staff would need to go that far out from the house. The lawns should be big enough for erecting a marquee, having a large croquet lawn or whatever else goes with having a house that size.

In the true country setting, e.g. Gloucestershire or another English shire, there are far worse hazards. A child could fall from a hay barn onto some combine harvester. Or a sheep dip with those neuro-toxin chemicals could be a grizzly end. Normal cows or the bull in a field could get you too. Hopping over a barbed wire fence might not kill you but isn't necessarily easy. Only a stupid, trespassing city dweller who should not be in the countryside under any circumstances could possibly fall off a real ha-ha and any ha-ha that is not part of a grand estate is not a real ha-ha.

Rivers and flood prevention can also provide a good excuse for a stately home to have a version of the ha-ha. This will be a ditch arrangement with a berm, this hides the riff-raff using the riverside path and the ironwork that takes the place of a wall for keeping them out.

The Royal Crescent Resident's Lawn in Bath is protected by a ha ha.

It's more of a discouragement than a fortification. It's not hard to scramble over it if you really want to.

When I read "Ha ha Wall" and saw the picture, I instantly assumed that it meant the people on the "safe" side of the wall could tease/taunt the people on the "difficult" side of the wall - like Nelson in the Simpsons, "Ha ha!"

Guess I was wrong. Maybe less than 100% convinced I'm wrong, but I probably just fell in love with my own explanation & I'm unwilling to fully concede.

As a French, I have never heard about this name. The article mentions the Château de Meudon, which I know reasonably well (I took the aerial views linked to on the wiki page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ch%C3%A2teau_de_Meudon): "ha ha" isn't found on that page, and I can't think of an example of such a construction in the domain.

Isn't this a term attributed to the French but exclusively used in English...?

I thought it’s named haha because so the person can still laugh at the intruder while they try.

This was precisely my assumption. I was surprised by the etymology.

I'm both surprised and skeptical. It makes me wonder whether there's a larger story, now lost... Perhaps the archetypal occurrence was someone famously humorless, and their outburst was forever burned into the minds of those present. Or perhaps the first instance was on the estate of a noble who thought it funny and insisted everyone else find it funny, too...

You might know this already given your username, but for the sake of the thread I feel I should mention "Ha ha" is a common expression in french when discovering something, and not exclusive to this feature (which I felt wasn't made clear in the article). It has a specific intonation pattern and doesn't sound much like laughing, so to me the etymology isn't all that surprising.

It does seem a little bit dangerous if there's no warning signage at the top. I could imagine someone running off the top landscape by accident if it's hard to see the divider.

Interestingly, I'm a web developer at a company housed in a stately home in Yorkshire that has a ha-ha. Can confirm that a herd of cows were not able to get on the lawn.

My initial guess was that "Ha-ha" stands for someone laughing at the face of the ones that were stopped by the wall. Something you wouldn't be able to do had it been a traditional wall.

I've see the opposite of this, building fences on top of berms, in areas where fence height is limited.

An ah! ah! wall?

Zoo uses this effectively to give scenic view to visitors.

This was a major Baader–Meinhof phenomenon incident for me. I literally had never heard the term before yesterday when I visited Exbury Gardens.

One of their info signs mentioned that female officers were forbidden from attending a royal visit during WWII but got round the ban by standing behind a Ha-ha wall so only the tops of their heads could be seen.

I was planning to come back and look up "Ha-ha wall" but it conveniently turned out to be on the front page of HN!

"A man who tripped and fell into a historic boundary ditch within the grounds of a stately home while taking his grandson on a guided bat walk has been awarded £8750 damages.

John Cowan badly fractured his right ankle after falling into a ha-ha ditch at Hopetoun House on the outskirts of Edinburgh on September 5, 2008, as he and his grandson returned to a car park in the dark."

Not suggesting this should be done, but for the sake of practical engineering argument, if a wall like this was used on the southern border, and I guess in areas where there is no hill it would have to be essentially a moat, with this theoretically save a lot of money over into nonsensically expensive concrete wall that offers a similar level of human blocking power?

They're even more vulnerable to the 'ladder' attack than a regular wall, since you don't have to worry about the drop on the other side of the wall.

It seems that you don't even need something as complicated as a ladder, a sufficiently long and sturdy plank could act as a ramp. Make the wall ADA compatible.

Nothing will perfectly secure a border of that length, not even a minefield.


To be installed around the Berlin Reichstag https://www.tip-berlin.de/berlin-considers-security-moat-for...

German politicians feeling threatened? By whom? Angry taxpayers? Would be terrorists? Antifa youth? The article is quite hillarious as it ridicules this plan. I can already imagine tipsy German MPs going to work and accidentally fallinng into the ditch.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom uses these in the Kilimanjaro Safaris ride.

This type of wall looks quite unsafe, especially at night. It seems easy to fall off the top of the wall into the ditch.

Apple Park implements this as well to hide the fence (and the city of Cupertino) from the employees inside.

I’m not sure if I’d call the raised mound that surrounds the campus a ha-ha wall. It probably was built to hide everything outside but the mountains, though.

Does a moat count as a ha-ha wall?

Although it serves something of a similar purpose, a moat interrupts the view and usually doesn’t slope on one side only.

> a moat interrupts the view

No, it doesn't: it's just a ditch. (But it's not very effective as a defensive element if not combined with a wall).

Skimming through the first hundred or so hits on “moat” on images.google.com shows that pretty much every single one does in fact interrupt the view.

So at the very least, keeping a clean view isn’t a fundamental property of moats. But keeping a clean view is the raison d’etre for haha’s. In fact that’s how they get their name.

Moats do in fact provide a very clear view of whatever is on the other side (often a castle or a wall). But of course that's not why they are built, nobody disputes that.

The key here is “uninterrupted” and “clean”. with a well done haha, you can’t tell that anything is there at all. With most moats, you can.

The popularity of freerunning/parkour makes me doubt their usefulness as a security device, unless they're made significantly wider & deeper than the wikipedia examples.

Or just drop a log on it and stroll over.

Problematic if you're a sheep.

I'm not sure the are used as security devices.

There’s a great song about it: https://youtu.be/HBUMuDLCLpk

I've seen a house in the united states that was built into the facing wall, from many angles the house was totally invisible.

One of the greatest creations in landscaping.

I have heard or read allegations that there is a wall like this along parts of the border between North and South Korea.

They use this technique in the Singaporean Zoo.

It’s used in quite a few zoos. Main animal enclosure is at same height as visitors, but slopes down to a 15 ft wall.

Nice hack - lateral thinking for fences.

Also known as a ditch :)

I would say a ditch is sloped ground both sides. The vertical (whether brick wall or otherwise) is a key feature here.

Ha-ha-broke-your-leg wall would be a more accurate name.

Ha ha

Seems relatable to contemporary digital paywalls and walled garden variants.

Or perhaps more broadly consumption-oriented (popular mobile) platforms versus general computing. As the young and curious user approaches, the limits of the permissioned experience, previously hidden, suddenly loom large. The realization that one is constrained by the willful labours of an opposed miscreant creator either weighs heavy or is denied... as another meaningless notification redirects their attention to the myopic stream of infinite-scroll minutiae in the central circus of permissioned experience.

That's a good analogy.

Unfortunately the young is left on the unfortunate side of the "wall".

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