Issue 189, page 1
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We (Melanie and Mike, of course) saw a captivating program called "Visions of England" on our local public television station. It consisted of beautiful shots of the English countryside and architecture through the eye of a camera mounted on a helicopter. It was narrated by a rather irritating person (she sounded like an American affecting an English accent) but was otherwise stunning, with the music of English composers swelling and subsiding with the rolling land. Anyhow, it got us to thinking about place-names in England. There are some interesting ones. English place-names aren't quite as bizarre as some of those in California, but we thought you would enjoy them nonetheless.
Torpenhow: Many of our English readers will recognize this one, as it is often cited as an example of an English place-name that contains three different words for the same or similar geographic features. It is formed from Celtic torr "hill", Celtic pen "hill" and Old English hoh "ridge, spur of a hill", so that Torpenhow could be said to mean, etymologically, "hill hill hill" (or, more elegantly, "ridge of the hill with a rocky peak)! It was Torpennoc in 1163. By the way, for you non-Brits, Torpenhow is pronounced "tor-pen-uh". It is located in Cumbria.
Challock Lees: This village name echoes the old pronunciation of calf, for it was formed from Old English cealf "calf" and loca "enclosure" and was originally the site of an enclosure for calves. The Lees comes from adding laes "pasture". The name was first recorded in 824 as Cealfalocum. Challock Lees is located in Kent.
Piddletrenthide: Do what? Let's start with this one's parts: Piddle is the name of a river in Dorset. It comes from Old English *pidele "a marsh or fen". Then there's Old French trent "thirty" and Old English hid "hide". Piddletrenthide is named for an estate on the River Piddle which was 30 hides in size (one hide = approximately 120 acres). Whew! It was Uppidelen in 966, Pidrie in the Domesday Book (1086), and Pidele Trentehydes in 1212.
Nottingham: English and non-English readers alike will recognize this name from the Robin Hood tales. It was originally Snotengaham (late 9th century), and in the Domesday Book it is Snotingeham. It is formed from Snot (an Old English personal name!) plus -inga- ("family or followers of") plus ham ("homestead, village, manor"), the etymological meaning being "Snot's folk's place". The leading s was dropped in the 12th century due to the influence of the Normans, who spoke French. French speakers would either drop an initial s or insert an e before it. Thankfully they dropped it in this case, else Robin Hood's archenemy would be the Sheriff of Snottingham!
Ampthill: This one is located in Bedfordshire and means "ant hill" or "hill infested with ants". It was Ammetelle in 1086. It is formed from Old English æmmette "ant" and hyll "hill".
Banwell: This comes from Old English bana "killer" (as in the plants henbane, dogbane and wolfbane - environmental hazards to hens, dogs and wolves*, respectively) and wella "spring, stream". The name, first recorded in 904 as Bananwylle, might be translated as either "murderer's spring/stream" or "spring/stream containing poisonous water".
Blatherwycke: This, in Northamptonshire, is thought to mean "farm where bladderplants grow"! If that is correct, it is formed from blædre "bladder" and wic "farm". It was Blarewiche in 1086.
Great Bricett: Definitely a place to go for holiday. Its name is thought to mean "fold or stable infested with gadflies", from briosa "gadflies" and (ge)set "stable, fold". In the Domesday Book it is Brieseta.
And finally, Yoxford: Located in Suffolk, it means "ford (in a stream/river) wide enough for a yoke of oxen". It was formed from geoc "yoke" and ford "ford". It was Gokesford in 1086.
* Those who first heard of wolf's bane
in a werewolf movie might assume that the plant was the brain-child of a
hack writer at Universal Studios. In fact, it's a plant (Aconitum
lycoctonum) with a rather attractive flower (resembling a monk's cowl,
hence its other name - Monk's hood) which grows in mountainous
parts of Europe.
It really is deadly, too. So much so that the ancient Greeks thought it could even kill a wolf and called it lykoktonon, "wolf-slayer". But, then, why would wolves eat flowers, anyway? Perhaps a foolish young wolf, led astray, tempted by peer pressure to nibble the wildflowers...
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Last Updated 01/08/06 01:58 PM