Digging the first sod/Spatenstich

Do we have a word for this in English? The mayor and a couple of other people come along and dig a symbolic first spadeful of earth on a building site – no matter, as I realize now, if work has been going on for a couple of months and huge holes have been dug and filled in again. It symbolizes the beginning of work on a building (this is a multi-storey car park).

Collins says ‘to turn the first sod’. I’m not quite convinced.

Anyway, this is distracting me from my work:


Unfortunately I missed the actual digging (see picture in Fürther Nachrichten).

7 thoughts on “Digging the first sod/Spatenstich

  1. Margaret

    My “Wörterbuch Auslandsbau” gives “ground-breaking ceremony”. Don’t know how authentic that might be-am not an expert on building procedures.



  2. The first term that came to this Canadian’s mind was “sod turning ceremony.” A search (with quotes) turns up some 2000+ hits. Of the top 10 (first page), 5 are ca, 4 are za and 1 is au. Of the next 10, 7 are ca, one each is za and au, and one is from Granada. So this term is apparently more common in other English-speaking countries than it is US and Britain. Hits for “ground breaking ceremony,” however are much more numerous, and interestingly, the sponsored link for the latter search is a site offering “groundbreaking [sic] ceremony shovels, awards, plaques, hard hats and more.”

  3. @Margaret: Thanks very much for the searching. That’s very helpful. I think groundbreaking ceremony may be American, and I know Collins will have got ‘sod turning ceremony’ from somewhere authentic, so why does it sound odd to me? It’s partly the problem with the word ‘sod’, which is such a common mild insult. But I wonder how often these ceremonies are held in Britain. I think there have been three here in fürth quite recently. Will have to keep an eye on the English-language press! They have taken the shovels away now, but now you mention it, maybe they did have something photogenic about them.

  4. I’ve seen quite a few mentions of “turning the first spade of soil/earth” – it’s also what I tend to use.

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