Word of the Day


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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


1. a small piece of land that you can rent and use for growing vegetables

2. the process of deciding to give someone part of an amount of something, especially money or time

3. part of an amount of something that is given to someone

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

The noun allotment was first used in English in the 16th century with the second and third meanings listed above. An allotment was a plot of land from the mid 16th century but the first meaning, which is the dominant one today in British English, dates from the beginning of the 19th century. All meanings come from the verb ‘allot’ plus the suffix ‘-ment’.


Allotments are small parcels of land rented to people, often by local authorities, so they can grow fruit and vegetables. Although allotments can be found in all areas, they are most popular in towns and cities where gardens are relatively small or non-existent. Their popularity has waxed and waned over the two centuries or so of their existence. During the two world wars, for example, they were used to supplement scarce food supplies. The wide availability of cheap and abundant fruit and vegetables led to a slump in their use in the second part of the 20th century, leading to many sites being turned over to housing and other uses. Recent decades have seen a revival, with allotments being taken over by those keen to grow some of their own food for a variety of reasons. These may include a desire to reduce food miles, anxiety over the quality of food produced by intensive methods, or simply  the wish to pursue a healthy outdoor activity, with any produce being almost a side benefit. Rather than being valuable solely for the production of fruit and vegetables, allotments are increasingly seen as a haven for wildlife, with many plotholders adopting organic methods and turning over part of their plot to flowers that attract and feed beneficial insects.


“Modern life is, for most of us, a kind of serfdom to mortgage, job and the constant assault to consume. Although we have more time and money than ever before, most of us have little sense of control over our own lives. It is all connected to the apathy that means fewer and fewer people vote. Politicians don’t listen to us anyway. Big business has all the power; religious extremism all the fear. But in the garden or allotment we are king or queen. It is our piece of outdoors that lays a real stake to the planet.”
(Monty Don)

Related words

kitchen garden, market garden, smallholding

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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