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from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A low tract of land, especially when moist or marshy.
  • n. A long, narrow, usually shallow trough between ridges on a beach, running parallel to the coastline.
  • n. A shallow troughlike depression that carries water mainly during rainstorms or snow melts.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A low tract of moist or marshy land.
  • n. A long narrow and shallow trough between ridges on a beach, running parallel to the coastline.
  • n. A shallow troughlike depression that's created to carry water during rainstorms or snow melts; a drainage ditch.
  • n. A shallow, usually grassy depression sloping downward from a plains upland meadow or level vegetated ridgetop.
  • n. A shallow trough dug into the land on contour (horizontally with no slope). Its purpose being to allow water time to percolate into the soil.
  • n. A gutter in a candle.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. A valley or low place; a tract of low, and usually wet, land; a moor; a fen.
  • v. To melt and waste away; to singe. See sweal, v.
  • n. A gutter in a candle.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. A shade, or shady spot.
  • n. A low place; a slight depression in a region in general nearly level, especially one of the lower tracts of what is called in the western United States “rolling prairie.”
  • Bleak; windy.
  • To melt and run down, as from heat; show the effects of great heat, whether by melting or by burning slowly.
  • To burn, whether by singeing or by causing to melt or to run down; especially, to dress, as an animal killed for food, by singeing off the hair.
  • n. A gutter in a candle.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. a low area (especially a marshy area between ridges)


Perhaps from Middle English, shade, perhaps of Scandinavian origin; akin to Old Norse svalr, cool.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
Possibly, from Middle English, "shade", perhaps of Scandinavian origin; akin to Old Norse svalr (Wiktionary)


  • a hill in the pasture, and I went to the top of this and saw the colt at the far side of the pasture in what we call the swale -- low, wet ground, where weeds abound.

    Reveries of a Schoolmaster

  • Heathercrest Park boasts a mature, mostly oak forest connected to the Mimico Creek watershed, and a small "swale" - a low marshy strip - that feeds into Mimico Creek - both of intrinsic interest to TRCA.


  • Beyond the swale was a narrow depression that might have been a stream or runoff channel in wetter years, and that channel led in a circling way around the west side of the semiplateau on which the mine complex stood, getting closer to the walls as it meandered south.

    The Chaos Balance

  • The first thing he saw as he crossed the swale was the big bays in the yard.


  • North, tumbling and rolling toward the Yellowstone in alternate "swale" and ridge, the treeless, upland prairie stretches to the horizon.

    Custer's Last Battle

  • From a point far down the "swale," from behind the low bank of the stream bed, three rifle shots rang out on the crisp morning air.

    A Daughter of the Sioux A Tale of the Indian frontier

  • Down in the "swale," the wooden barracks, stables, quarters, and storehouses are all one tint of economical brown, brightened only by the hues of the flag that hangs high over the scene.

    Marion's Faith.

  • It is situated in a low marshy 'swale' to the right of the Sweetwater river, and about forty miles from the South Pass.

    Ice-Caves of France and Switzerland

  • But if you look to your Johnson, you will find, to your better satisfaction, that the name means "bird of porticos," or porches, from the Gothic "swale;"

    Love's Meinie Three Lectures on Greek and English Birds

  • For a time they would disappear behind trees or into a swale, only to reappear that much closer.

    Fire The Sky


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  • "In this treeless and littoral terrain, the waters beside it did not suggest to me the Savannah River, but Jerris's concentration was on the swales, hollows, and longitudinal mounds of the fairways."
    "Linksland and Bottle" by John McPhee, in The New Yorker, September 6, 2010, p 48

    September 8, 2010