Sunday, 27 June 2010

So Glad I'm Not Learning English as a Foreign Language

Found (I can't remember where) some time ago, one of the delightful examinations of the English language and the oddities and nuances which make it perfect for all forms of literature. Enjoy.

Let's face it - English is a crazy language.
There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger;
neither apple nor pine in pineapple.
English muffins weren't invented in England .
We take English for granted, but if we explore its paradoxes,
we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square,
and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

And why is it that writers write but fingers don't fing,
grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham?
Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend.
If you have a bunch of odds and ends and
get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught?
If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?
Sometimes I think all the folks who grew up speaking English
should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane.

In what other language do people recite at a play and play at a recital?
We ship by truck but send cargo by ship.
We have noses that run and feet that smell.
We park in a driveway and drive in a parkway.
And how can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same,
while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language
in which your house can burn up as it burns down,
in which you fill in a form by filling it out, and
in which an alarm goes off by going on.

And in closing, if Father is Pop, how come Mother's not Mop?

Sunday, 20 June 2010

And Yet More Wordplay

Following the question of the longest word containing but one syllable, here is another for you to try to better - the longest English word I can find without a vowel is RHYTHMS, anything longer to offer?

After much 'encouragement' I now tweet for those interested


Wednesday, 16 June 2010

More English Wordplay

Some weeks ago I spoke on the oddities of the English language and here is a quick thought to mull over.

Many pages have been dedicated to the longest and shortest words, those with the fewest syllables or conversely the most. For years I have tried to find the the longest English word which consists of just one syllable and have never found one longer (or even as long) than STRAIGHTS (nine letters).

Any ideas?

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Radio Interview

Have received a call today from BBC Radio Gloucester. I was not aware that they had been looking at some of the place names defined in my book Gloucestershire Place Names - Amberley Publishing and yet all week on the Mark Cummings show the subject has apparently been well received. As a result they have requested a quick telephone interview tomorrow morning at around 08:40am local time.

Never being able to listen to these things myself I would really welcome comments from anyone who manages to hear the broadcast in the morning. For those who can only get this over the internet then follow this link and select the 'listen live' option.

I look forward to hearing your comments.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Horses for Courses

A quick look at the origins of the names of horseracing courses around the British Isles.

Punters are always on the look-out for any crumb of information which will lead them to picking that winner. Many have their own system, one they have painstakingly devised themselves. As a keen toponymist - one who studies place names - the writer wondered if examining the origins and meaning of the name of the course itself might provide hitherto untapped information.
The place names of England are largely Old English, the language brought to our shores by the Saxons. In the north and east there have also been Scandinavian influences, while the earlier Celtic tongues can still be found particularly in the names of geographical features such as hills and streams.
Many place name are simply a description of the place preceded by a personal name, someone significant in the lives of this community. This includes Brighton which began life as 'the farmstead of a man called Beorhthelm'; Carlisle is a Celtic name 'the fortified place belonging to a man called Luguvalos'; Epsom is 'the homestead of a man called Ebbe or Ebbi'; Fakenham 'the homestead of a man called Facca'; Folkestone the 'stone of a man called Folca', the stone would almost certainly have marked the meeting place for the local hundred, a Saxon administrative region.
Huntingdon is either 'the hill of the huntsman' or possibly 'hill of a man called Hunta'; Kempton is either 'the farmstead of the warrior' or perhaps 'Cempa's farmstead'; Nottingham has lost its first letter, it began as 'the homestead of the followers or family of a man called Snot'; Sedgefield began life as 'the open land of a man called Cedd or Secg'; Uttoxeter is from 'the heathland of a man called Wuttuc', however this does not explain why local pronunciation gives the name as 'Ucheter'; Wolverhampton began life as 'the high farmstead', with the later addition of Wulfrun, the name of the lady who held this manor from AD985; and Worcester describes 'the Roman stronghold of the Weogora tribe'.
One place name was named by the man himself. Hamilton is named after Lord Hamilton, who came here in the fifteenth century to a village previously known as Cadzow or 'the battle hollow'.
Others simply describe the place itself such as Ascot is 'the eastern cottages'; Bangor is 'the fenced enclosure'; Beverley speaks of itself as 'the stream frequented by beavers'; Bath is an Old English name for the '(place at) the (Roman) baths'; Chepstow is first found in the fourteenth century as coming from ceap stow 'the outlying place with a market'; Chester this Saxon name describes 'the Roman stronghold'; while the name of Devon and Exeter refer to the 'territory of the Dumnonii' and 'the Roman stronghold on the River Exe'.
Doncaster speaks of 'the Roman stronghold on the River Don'; Edinburgh began as a Scottish Gaelic name, which is still seen in the name of the New Zealand city of Dunedin, while the present name has been influenced by Old English it still means the same thing as 'the stronghold of the rock face'; Goodwood does indeed refer to the 'excellent wood'; Haydock appears to be borrowed from the Welsh to describe 'farm where barley or corn is grown'; Hereford the 'ford suitable for the passage of an army', that is large and hard-wearing enough, it was not only for an army; Hexham is 'the warrior's homestead'; and Lanark comes from 'the forest glade'.
Leicester remembers the Celtic tribe who were here in 'the Roman stronghold of the people called Ligore'; Liverpool refers to 'the pool or creek with muddy water'; Lingfield describes 'the open land of the dwellers in the woodland clearing'; Ludlow is 'the hill by the noisy stream', that being the Teme; Perth is a Brythonic name describing the 'place at the thicket'; Plumpton speaks of 'the farmstead where plum trees grow'; Pontefract is of Latin origin, pons fractus describing 'the broken bridge'; and Redcar is a reminder that this was once known for 'the red or reedy marsh'.
Ripon is another telling us of the people, this name meaning the '(territory of) the Hrype tribe'; Salisbury is 'the stronghold at Sorvio', the earlier Celtic name for a place which has never been understood; Sandown means exactly what it says 'the sandy hill or down'; Warwick is 'the dairy farm on the bank', that is not necessarily the bank of the Avon, more likely to be a simple bank of earth; and York is a name of Scandinavian influence, the city of Jorvik to the Vikings was known as Eboracum by the Romans, all telling us of 'the place of the yew trees'.
There are those which are derived from the local water source. Ayr is a pre-Celtic river name which describes it as 'smooth running'; Catterick a rare place name from Latin describing a 'waterfall'; Fontwell derives its name from a spring; Southwell comes as no surprise for it does indeed describe 'the southern spring or stream'; Wye is a common river name which is of Celtic origin or even earlier and has never been understood: Yarmouth stands 'at the mouth of the River Yar', a river name meaning 'the babbling stream'; Wincanton tells of its location as 'the farmstead on the River Cale'; Teesside is 'on or by the River Tees', this river name also describing its power in 'the surging one'; Towcester is another river name in 'the Roman stronghold on the River Towe', here the Towe tells us it was 'slow'; and the name of Taunton is the 'farmstead on the River Tone', this Celtic river name thought to describes 'the roaring stream'.
Geographical features are seen in the names of Cheltenham which is 'the enclosure by the hill slope called Celte'; Kelso means 'the place at the chalk hill'; Stratford is a common name, always referring to 'the ford on the Roman road'; Thirsk is from an Old Scandinavian word meaning 'a marsh'.
Market Rasen is one of three places with the element Rasen, this given distinction by mentioning its market and is one of the writer's favourite kind of name for it paints an instant picture of the place in Saxon times, one that no camera could record and no artist would paint, it tells us of 'the bridge made of planks', a fairly rare sight in England when most streams were forded and the rudimentary footbridges were simply a tree trunk. Newbury tells us it was 'the new market town', although the name is certainly well over a thousand years old and therefore should be seen as 'newer market town'. Newcastle as with Newbury this should be understood as 'the newer castle'. Newmarket and once again 'the newer market town'. Newton Abbott comes from 'the new farmstead belonging to Torre Abbey'. Stockton's origins are either stoc tun 'the outlying farmstead' or stocc tun 'the farmstead constructed from or marked by logs', two similar words having quite different meanings and virtually impossible to distinguish between the two. Wetherby was a place known as 'the village where wethers are raised', a wether is a castrated male sheep. Windsor, also the taken as the surname of the present royal household, refers to its position alongside the River Thames where goods were brought along the river to the settlement and brought up 'the muddy slope on a sled by means of a rope attached to a winding mechanism'.
So armed with this insight did it enable the writer to produce the winning formula? Sadly not yet, but there is always tomorrow.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Out and About

It has been too long since my last post, not through laziness but simply not been around long enough to get around to it. My travels have taken me to the Isle of Wight, to Wales, to the Peak District, and to Devon. In Wales I walked an old railway line which is now known as the Mawddach Trail and give a preview to a forthcoming project based upon the history of this stretch of the principality which was bathed in warm sunshine on the day I walked it.

"As discussed under the chapter on the Llangollen Railway, there is a ten mile stretch between Dolgellau and Barmouth which is now a bridleway and cycle route known as the Mawddach Trail or Llwybr Mawddach in Welsh. Together with the narrow gauge railway at Bala, the three connected routes show different aspects of former lines in the principality.
That this is one of the most popular routes for both walkers and cyclists alike. No wonder considering the splendour of the valley of the Afon Mawddach, where the river ages over a comparatively short route, opening out at the estuary and the bridge leading across to Barmouth.
A word of caution for those intending to follow this route note this is the Mawddach Trail and not the Mawddach Way. The former is almost perfectly level, a little short of ten miles, can be walked both ways in a day, and is even designated as wheelchair accessible. However the latter is a circular path around the estuary, is unsuitable for cycles, covers over thirty miles, climbs to a high point of over 1,100 feet above sea level, and experts advise to allow three days to cover this challenging route.
Back to our chosen route and we shall begin at Dolgellau in the Snowdonia National Park. From the former location of the station, only known by its Welsh name from 12th September 1960 and prior to that given the Anglicised version of Dolgelly, we shall follow the southern bank of the Afon Mawddach to the estuary. This is an ever-changing and peaceful journey, the river cutting through between the Rhinog Hills on one side and the Cadair Idris massif on the other.
The town of Dolgellau has plenty to offer with over two hundred listed buildings in its narrow streets. Dolgellau Station was opened on August 4th 1868, at a point where two former railway empires met head on: the huge Great Western Railway and the smaller Cambrian Railway Company who built the route we shall follow. By the time it closed there were two platforms with a passing loop, and an extensive goods yard with a turntable.
There is no sign of the station today, it disappeared when the A494 Dolgellau bypass was constructed in the 1970s. The line was constructed to bring the tourists into Barmouth from as far afield as the Birmingham and Manchester along a line which connected the West Midlands with the Welsh Coast, in the shadow of the Snowdonia National Park. However the businesses here soon took advantage of the artery to ship their own goods into the rich markets of England. Dolgellau's weavers soon benefitted from the larger market, while slate also made use of the line as we shall further along the route.
The first river is not the Mawddach, that we shall meet shortly, here the river is the Wnion (almost pronounced 'onion'), a brisk and pleasant stream which tumbles over the rocks and stones on its way to join its larger cousin. It is only half a mile along the footpath to the next landmark, the Wernddu footbridge taking us across the river to the trail proper, for it was along the north bank that the trains ran.
Shortly afterwards we pass a reed bed, a site of special scientific interest which can claim to be largest reed bed found anywhere in the principality. Look across to the northern shore and you are looking at the Welsh Yukon, here the gold mining industry was born in the 1860s and has been born and reborn time and again until as recently as 1998. Doubtless another vein will be discovered before long and, for a short period at least, gold mining will come back to the valley. The quality of the metal here is among the finest in the world, no royal wedding in memory has not used some Welsh gold in its the rings worn born bride and groom.
Another half a mile and we arrive at the next station which was Penmaenpool which, as with the previous station, had two platforms and a passing loop. However unlike Dolgellau part of the station is still here, indeed some buildings are still in use.
What were the platforms is now a car park. Those parked here may not be walking the trail, they could possibly be in the station's old signal box, still painted in Great Western Colours of cream and brown, which is now used as as information centre and observation post for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Alongside the signal box is the Penmaenpool Wooden Toll Bridge, built in 1879 it replaced the earlier ferry and was largely funded by money from the gold mines.
The toll bridge is a Cadw-registered building, the official body for the preservation of historic sites in Wales. What were the station master's house, ticket office and waiting room are also still here and have been converted into an annexe for the George III Hotel. Here we see a perfectly preserved signal with a warning sign to those who would trespass on the track stating: 'DANGER. Survivors will be prosecuted'.
Leaving the station there is an incline leading past the buildings which served the station and sidings. The track bed runs through a cutting blasted out of the rock to provide a gradient suitable for a railway. Travelling on the we head straight west to meet with the river estuary. It is this stretch which is of particular interest to the bird watchers who can view the mudflats here to see the waders and simply by turning around can see an excellent variety of woodland birds.
As the River Mawddach dominates the route we should say a few words about a river which is probably little known outside Snowdonia. Indeed in 1976 the flooding river washed away much of the surviving ballast from the trackbed, effectively producing the present pathway at a stroke. Six significant tributaries - Afon Cwm Mynach, Afon Gamlan, Afon Eden, Afon Gain, Afon Wen, and the aforementiond Afon Wnion - and many smaller streams drain a sizable area. Each river has its own individuality, from providing important habitats for mosses and liverwort to gold mining and panning.
Although it may seem difficult to believe when walking through this idyllic scenery in the twenty-first century, the river has suffered greatly from pollution in the past. The preparation of animal skins, artillery ranges, munitions storage, and as a major ship building centre in the eighteenth century all contributed to the pollution. Yet today it is an important fishery for trout and salmon, despite the relatively high acidity levels washed in from the peat soils on the hills. The number and size of the tributaries do mean the river is liable to flood during and after the heaviest downpours. Indeed the track ballast was washed away by one flood, assisting the development of the track for walkers and cyclists.
Crossing one bridge across a tributary we come shortly to a straight section of track where the embankment has been built to cut through the estuary itself. Waters have access points all along to accomodate the rise and ebb of the tides. Still we see the old telegraph poles which still stand alongside railway lines the length and breadth of the land.
Returning to dry land once more this southern shore is, and always has been, largely agricultural. Farm buildings built of local stone blend in perfectly with the walls bordering the small fields where sheep graze. The earlier concrete tank traps remain, still defending the estuary from potential invasion seven decades after they were erected. These are no eyesore, perhaps owing to the trees which now camouflage the regular shapes, and there is a distinct impression of a row of teeth, ready to bite at the enemy should he try to invade via the estuary.
It is a little more than three miles from the previous station to Arthog, however there are many picnic stops on the way and the easy walking and delightful views mean this is hardly the most strenuous exercise. Arthog, like Dolgellau, has no surviving station buildings, although the location of the platforms can still be made out.
Arthog was a mining community, not for gold but slate. Here the rows of workers cottages are a pretty picture, something which cannot be said of the scar left by the workings of the slate themselves although these are invisible except from the air. Arthog station, now with its picnic area and car park, is across from a pathway marking the line where trams brought slate from the mine to the railway and thereafter to Barmouth and beyond.
Here the railway leaves the shoreline and heads straight for a good mile through an avenue of trees which is highly reminiscent of a railway line. Then we loop around to the right and ahead of us is the station which was Barmouth Junction.
There are two tramways which are worthy of mention, visible to those who keep their eyes open for a fairly obvious embankment. Solomon Andrews tried to found a holiday resort here in the 1890s. His plans were grand but he achieved little, the few houses he did build are now private homes and set away from the main walk. One tramway brought building materials in to this part of the estuary, the second is found just short of the bridge at the mouth and is quite evident on the right.
For some time the bridge across the mouth of the estuary to Barmouth has been glimpsed, however we must first pass through the junction station of Morfa Mawddach. This is also where the old station platforms are alongside a still active line between Pwllheli and Machynlleth. This line crosses the bridge alongside the footpath, it is a toll bridge and revenue helped to reopen it to all but the lightest rail traffic after the toredo marine worm burrowed into the wooden piles and almost brought it down. It is three-quarters of a mile in length, the longest bridge in Wales and one of the most instantly recognised features in the entire principality.
The bridge has a wooden section of 113 spans and an iron section of just eight spans. This latter part once slid aside to allow the passage of ships into and from the estuary, although not popular with the railway for it took thirty-seven minutes to open and close added to which was the time it took to get the ship through the opening. The modern version is a swing bridge, one which has not moved for over twenty years. Each of these columns were sunk 120 feet below sea level, through the silt and mud to stand on the bedrock below.
Barmouth, or to give its Welsh name Abermaw, appears to be clinging precariously to the edge of the land between the hills and the water. As stated at the beginning this is linked to the another chapter, that of the Llangollen Railway. The link is completed here at Barmouth in the form of the station's old signal box which was redundant following the introduction of radio signalling. It was taken and erected at Glynyfrdwy Station on the heritage Llangollen Railway."