Sunday, 13 July 2014

The Meaning of ….. Monty Python

Currently the O2 is staging something many of us thought we would never see, a reunion of the comedy team Monty Python. I am in no position to comment on the series, being far too young to remember the original broadcasts (nudge, nudge) and never having bought either the series – four series with two DVDs for the first three and one for the fourth giving a total playing time of 20 hours and 7 minutes – or the films – available as a box set (wink, wink).

Write about what you know and whilst there will be a lot of junk written (spam) about the merits of this comedy landmark, I will limit myself to an examination (not using the machine that goes ‘ping’) of the origins of some of the names (omitting Patsy, Mungo, Arthur, Brian, Mr. Bartlett, Mr. Wensleydale and the best friend of the mother of the Minister for the Interior).

There have been many explanations as to the origins of the name of the series. Monty Python is reported as being reminiscent of a rather slippery agent, a British military figure (not one wearing a tutu), a drunk in the local (whose walk is anything but silly) ….. and so on and so forth. Doubtless we will never know the real origin, likely the chaps themselves have no idea, and the arguments will rumble on (not five minutes but the full half hour).

Monty – is short for Montgomery and brought to our shores by the Normans. There are two likely origins. The most often quoted is a place name meaning ‘Gomer’s hill’ and there are a number of potential sites in Europe named after the Biblical patriarch Gomer. If not Gomer then this is from the Germanic guma ric, literally ‘man of power’.

Python – is from Greek mythology, a reference to an enormous serpent slain by Apollo at Delphi (where there may have been a shrubbery). The species is central to the mythology of the Igbo people of Nigeria who see the creature as symbolic of the earth and will protect it, even if it comes into their villages. Any accidentally killed will be given a coffin and a funeral (unlike parrots).

As the title of the revival suggests there are five surviving members of the original six providing the opportunity to give the origin of six surnames and five christian names, there are two named Terry (and not four Yorkshiremen).

Terry – came into usage from the Roman family name Terentius (Romani ite domum) and first seen in the names of saints in Ireland. It was not used in England before the nineteenth century.

John – can be traced to the Hebrew name Yochanan meaning ‘Yahweh is gracious’ (a view unexpectedly shared by the Spanish Inquisition).

Eric – an Old Norse name brought to our shores by the Vikings (who were doubtless pining for the fjords). It is thought to have come from a Proto-Germanic rikiaz meaning ‘powerful’. While the name was popular until the Middle Ages, it was not until the nineteenth century the name saw a revival, mainly due to the publication of the novel Eric, or, Little by Little (and not half a bee by the same name).

Michael – is a male name traceable to the Hebrew and meaning ‘who is like God?’. It is thought to be the only example of a name with a meaning which is a question (as in “Who are the Britons?”)

Graham – has two possible origins. Either this represents greot ham or ‘the homestead in the gravelly place’ or began as a a word meaning ‘grey home’. Both would have begun as place names (neither of which is Camelot).

Idle – where the meaning depends upon the source. If Middle English it would be a derogatory name meaning ‘useless, worthless’; however Old English would speak of a place where one could find ‘unused ground’; and very differently Old Welsh would give a meaning of ‘bountiful lord’.

Chapman – is undoubtedly an occupational surname (not a lumberjack) and from Old English ceap which is used to mean ‘market’ and has given us the word ‘cheap’. While the ‘man’ element is obvious, the first syllable could be used to refer to a seller, a buyer, an itinerant salesman, or a commercial agent, all ostensibly suggesting trade (blessed are the cheesemakers).

Palin – as with Idle depends upon the language. Here this is either an Old English place name or from the Welsh meaning ‘son of Heilyn’.

Jones – is derived from the name John, itself defined above.

Gilliam – is a variation of William, and brought here by the French (who may have taunted us after Hastings by suggesting our mothers were hamsters and our fathers smelled of elderberries, although there is no written evidence to support this).

Cleese – is a Norman French surname first seen when William the Conqueror granted lands in Lincolnshire to one of his knights named Cleese. However had it not been for John’s father changing the family name to Cleese when enlisting in the British Army in World War One, he thought the name an embarrassment, we would have been speaking about the tradesman being the origin of one John Marwood Cheese (whose ancestors were unlikely to have produced Red Leicester, Tilsit, Caephilly, Bel Paese, Red Windsor, Stilton, Gruyere, Emmental, Norwegian Jarlsberg, Liptauer, Lancashire, White Stilton, Danish Blue, Double Gloucester, Cheshire, Dorset Blue Vinney, Brie, Roquefort, Pont l’Eveque, Port Salut, Savoyard, Saint-Paulin, Carre de l’Est, Bourson, Bresse-Blue, Perle de Champagne, Camembert, Gouda, Edam, Caithness, Smoked Australian, Sage Derby, Wensleydale, Greek Feta, Gorgonzola, Parmesan, Mozzarella, Pipo Crem, Fynbo, Czechoslovakian sheep’s milk cheese, Venezuelan Beaver Cheese, Cheddar, Ilchester, or Limburger).

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