A cranny is a narrow hole or opening. Synonyms include notch, cleft, crack, jag, niche, chink, crevice, and fissure. The origin of the word is disputed. It may come from Old French, cren or cran, where it meant “notch” and was used as a technical term in reference to fortification— from which we also get the word crenellated. The earliest use of the expression “nook and cranny” cited by the Oxford English Dictionary comes from 1836. Poets have used the word as a verb—in Arthur Golding’s sixteenth-century translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, “The ground did cranie everywhere, and light did pierce to hell”—and also as an adjective. Byron in Childe Harold: “All tenantless, save to the crannying wind.” Tennyson: “Flower of the crannied wall, I pluck you out of the crannies.” The word came into North America bearing this genealogy. There is a Cranny Spring in Cassia County, Idaho, a Cranny Crow Overlook in Lost River State Park in West Virginia, and among northern California skiers the adventurous are always on the lookout for the challenge of “nook-and-cranny mountains,” such as Alpine Meadows near Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada. American poets have also had their way with the word. Here is Edna St. Vincent Millay: “Holds Heaven not some cranny, Lord,/For a flower so tall and blue?”

Robert Hass