Sunday, 26 December 2010

Strictly Cash Terms

Recently I came across a word I had (thankfully) never heard before. However it was clear from the adverisement that wonga meant cash, coin of the realm, currency, money. Momentarily baffled as to why such a grotesque noise should ever be considered worthy of use, it did get me thinking of other slang terms for money, some of which I will admit to having used myself, albeit sparingly, I also found many more than I had never encountered.

ackers - used in the United Kingdom it is one of several which was brought back to the homeland from colonial days. It is derived from the Egyptian akka, itself having many uses as a personal name, even a tribal one, yet seems to have its earliest reference as the triangular object on the Great Pyramid of the pharaoh Khuffu or Khuvu.

bob - some will still recall pre-decimal currency in the United Kingdom when pounds were divided into twenty shillings. Most often the shilling was known as a 'bob', which is first recorded in the early nineteenth century, while the origin is obscure.

brass - is one of the most obvious origins, it simply refers to the colour of the coinage.

buck - is in use for the American dollar by 1856. The origin is uncertain but thought to have originated as an abbreviation of 'buckskin', the basic unit of trade between Native Americans and European settlers in the early frontier days.

coppers - as with other names, this is a simple reference to the colour of some of the coins.

deaner - is another term for a shilling, not one I had ever heard before, but is certainly a mis-spelling of 'dinar', from Greek denarius, and seen as currency across North Africa, parts of the Middle East and as far north as Yugoslavia.

dibs - is used for small amounts of money. It is short for dibstones, the pebbles or counters used in the game played with knucklebones.

dough - may be a slang term today, however in the Middle English term dogh, from Germanic dag, did indeed mean 'money'.

folding stuff - one of the less imaginative terms, clearly this only refers to paper money.

fin - is applied to the £5 but the origin is obscure, suggestions of an abbreviation for 'finance' seem contrived.

gelt - is a Yiddish word, from Old High German gelt meaning 'recompense, reward'.

greenback - obviously the colour of the dollar bill.

joey - referred to the old silver threepence, the etymology is unknown but is referred to as such in George Orwell's Keep the Aspidistras Flying.

monkey - is a term for £500, it is held to be derived from the image of the monkey on the Indian 500 rupee note and brought back the Britain by soldiers who had served there.

nicker - a reference to a pound sterling, although the origin is unkown.

pony - as with the term 'monkey' a term brought back from India, this image on the 25 rupee note and describing £25.

quid - is the most commonly used term for a pound (also once used for a guinea). Almost certainly from Latin quid simply 'something'. First known usage is in 1688 when Shadwell writes "Let me equip thee with a quid" showing it must have been in popular use even then.

sou - is from the Old French sou a former French coin of minimal value.

tanner - is another name derived from the days of the British influence in India. At the time a rupee was roughly equal to a shilling, the rupee comprised sixteen annas and thus half a rupee was eight anna. Easy to see how half a shilling could also be seen as 'eight anna' or 'a tanner'.

It is claimed there are only two other subjects which have more slang terms than money - drink I may look at some time in the future (alcoholic, of course), but euphemisms for sex and the various acts is not for blogging.
(I should be able to get at least one book out of it!)

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Shipping Forecast

Listening to Test Match Special on the final day of the 2nd Test of the current Ashes tour, I decided to listen on my old radio rather than tuning in to the digital broadcast. This turned out to be a mistake as when the inevitable victory arrived, the final wicket fell while Radio 4 were broadcasting the Shipping Forecast!

This only detracted marginally from the win, however it did get me thinking about the etymology of these oddly named sea areas used in the Shipping Forecast. The following list is given in the accepted order in which every report is broadcast:

Viking - while there is no doubt the term refers to the Norse lands off which this sea area is found, the origin of the word has always been disputed. The most likely meaning is from vikingr, a noun referring to those who went on expeditions and voyages across and beyond this sea area.

North Utsire - Utsira is a region of Norway, its name comes from Old Norse Sira, the name of the river found here which means 'the strong stream', with the addition of ut giving 'out of Sira'.

South Utsire - as above.

Forties - is an area of the North Sea where the depth is shown on nautical maps as very level and results in a series of depth of forty-something fathoms. It was known as such well before shipping forecast areas were ever devised.

Cromarty - is a Scottish place name, from Gaelic crom bati 'the crooked bay'.

Forth - is one of several areas named from the river estuary found there. The River Forth is not known before the twelfth century, this may be from Old Gaelic foirthe, itself derived from Brythonic voritia meaning 'slow running'. Suggestions that this is related to the Norse fjordr 'fjord' are unlikely.

Tyne - another river name, the northeast Tyne is related to other English river names (Tame, Teme, Tamar, Thames, etc), all of which are thought to mean 'river'. If this seems overly simplistic, remember these people were not as widely travelled as we are today, many would never have seen another river of any reasonable size in their lives. Even today residents of a town rarely refer to the river by name when speaking to one another, merely calling it 'the river'.

Dogger - gets its name from dogge, an old Dutch word for a fishing boat and transferred here for this has been one of the most productive fishing areas in the North Sea. As the name suggests it is a large sandbank and its 6,800 square miles reaches a maximum depth of just 66 feet. The North Sea was once dry land, before the thaw at the end of the last ice age Britain was attached to Europe. This dry region was named Doggerland, named for the sandbank and must be unique in being an area of dry land being named after a fishing boat.

Fisher - as with the previous name is also named for its heavy catch for fishing boats.

German Bight - is used for the western North Sea, 'bight' being used for an indentiation of the coastline from the fifteenth century. The word is ultimately from Proto-Indo-European bheug 'to bend', the word also gave us the name of the early weapon, the bow.

Humber - another area named for the river, in this case more an estuary, is from the Humber which is another ancient name but considered to describe 'the dark river'.

Thames - as discussed under the Tyne, England's greatest river is an ancient name and thus would be most simplistic in describing itself as 'the river'. Effectively this would be describing 'flowing water' as opposed to stagnant pools and thus probably good for drinking.

Dover - as a sea area derives its name from the Straits of Dover, which in turn came from the famous port. The place name comes from Celtic dubras which gave a name to the River Dour and described 'the waters'.

Wight - is clearly named from the Isle of Wight, although the island takes its name from the Solent which is forms two arms to the northeast and northwest and separates it from the mainland. The name is Celtic or earlier and tells of 'the division'.

Portland - from the so-called Isle of Portland, connected to the mainland by a narrow strip, this name is recorded since at least the tenth century and is from old English port land 'the estate of the harbour'

Plymouth - arguably England's most famous port has a name which is easy enough to define, it comes from Old English to describe 'the mouth of the River Plym'. Of course the next question concerns the origin of the river name, which is derived, the process being known as back formation, from another place name. Plympton also stands on the river and tells us it was 'the farmstead of the plum trees'.

Biscay - is clearly the region of the Bay of Biscay. The name is from Basque bizkar meaning 'hill, slope' and referring to a section of the Pyrenees which gave a name to the Vizcaya province around Bilbao.

Trafalgar - a name well known to the British because of the famous battle of 1805, although few are aware of its location. It is named after Cape Trafalgar in southwest of Spain. Indeed the name means 'the western point' and comes from Arabic tarf-el-garb. Stories that the name is Arabic taraf-al-aghar and describing 'the pillar cave' of one of the Pillars of Hercules in Greek mythology are little more than creative etymology.

FitzRoy - was formerly known as Finisterre, an Old French name meaning 'the end of the earth' but was changed in 2002 to avoid confusion with a Spanish forecast area. The modern name comes from Vice-Admiral Robert FitzRoy (1805-65), who is best known for captaining HMS Beagle on Charles Darwin's famous voyage but who was chosen for to honour the man who founded the UK Meteorogical Office.

Sole - named for the Sole Bank, another of the areas named for its fishing, although whether it was named for the great quantities of sole caught seems unlikely.

Lundy - named for the island of Lundy of the coast of Devon, it is named from the Old Scandinavian lundi ey and describes itself as 'puffin island'.

Fastnet - is another with an Old Scandinavian name, this is after the Fastnet Rock, itself from hvasstann ait 'the sharp tooth islet'.

Irish Sea - one of the most obvious names of all the sea areas.

Shannon - another named after a river, here Ireland's largest river is thought to be from Celtic sen amhan telling of 'the big river'.

Rockall - is a small rocky island in the North Atlantic which was unheard of outside maritime circles until the creation of the sea areas. Its origin is possibly from Gaelic sgeir rocail 'the roaring sea rock', although rocail may also be translated as 'tearing, ripping', either would be a good description of this exposed rock.

Malin - is named from one the northernmost point of the Irish mainland, although it is not a part of Northern Ireland. Malin Head is named for it being 'the headland head'

Hebrides - a name which undoubtedly is of great age, the Greek Pliny gives them as Hebudae in the first century and around AD150 Ptolemy records these as Eboudai. Unfortunately the meaning of this name is unknown, not surprising since they will have been named at some time since they were first occupied, archaeology shows this to be at least 6500BC.

Bailey - is named after the Bailey Bank, another shallow much prized by fishermen.

Fair Isle - is an island known for two reasons, for the knitwear which bears its name, and also as the most remote inhabited island in the United Kingdom. It is not named for its beauty but comes from Old Norse faer and describes 'the sheep island'.

Faeroes - this group of islands shares an origin with Fair Isle, it comes from Old Danish faar oe 'the sheep island'.

Southeast Iceland - the last sea area has one of the most obvious origins, the name of the island is quite literal and named such in 960 when the Viking explorer Floki landed here. Note this was not their first venture here, they had arrived over a century earlier on the opposite coast and had known this place as Snjoland 'snowland'.

Incidentally, these names are always read out in this same order to make it easier for listeners to know when their particular sea area is coming up, clearly quite important for mariners. Perhaps Sally Traffic should take note for few drivers can have avoided trouble spots ahead as a result of her warnings. Inevitably these garbled radio reports are strung together in a single sentence (apparently without any punctuation), while the location is often hidden so well within the report as to make the announcement meaningless and hence a complete waste of air time.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

What's Cooking?

To continue on from previous weeks and etymological themes, another old piece was written for a culinary magazine (sadly no longer in circulation). Here the origins of words (particularly verbs) associated with cooking was the challenge and resulted in the following information.

Baking is to cook in dry heat, although today it is associated solely with cooking of breads, pastries, and cakes. However to bake food must have been the earliest method of controlled cooking, where food wrapped in leaves or similar protection was buried in the ashes and embers of the still-hot open fire. Consequently the term must be very old and probably comes from a Proto-Indo-European root word bakan. Although we shall never know for certain it may well be this represents the original verb 'to cook'.
Both fry and roast, despite being very different words and methods, seem to have a common origin in Proto-Indo-European bher. From this the French derived frire and Latin frigere both meaning 'to fry', while another branch of that language came through Sanskrit bharjanah, Persian birishtan, and Greek phrygein all meaning 'to roast'. It seems unlikely these share a name derived from the vessel in which they were cooked, although this cannot be ruled out entirely.
However we can be certain that grill certainly was derived from the mesh on which the item was placed. Note the English word buccaneer has identical origins. While we association such with the roguish pirate in pursuit of treasures, the word is derived from the French boucanier or 'the user of a boucan. Originally used to describe the French settlers who made a living as hunters and woodsmen in the Spanish West Indies, it was later applied to their method of cooking. It cannot be difficult to see the term barbecue is also related, this is simply the Haitian variation of barbacoa with the same meaning. However the verb 'toast', in the 'brown with heat' sense, has the same origin, coming from Old French toster meaning 'to toast or grill'.
While boiling would have been employed as a means of cooking for many years, the term was brought to England by the Normans in the Old French bolir from Latin bullire. Both originally meant 'to bubble up, seethe' and was probably used in the sense 'to agitate' well before it was applied to cooking terminology. Simmer, ostensibly a gentle boil in culinary terms, comes from simperen which, again, is an emotional reference to feeling 'agitated'. To baste is another from Old French, where basser meant 'to moisten'. Poach is a similar method of cooking in liquid, although it is actually describing the cooking 'in a pocket' from French poche - envisage the white of the egg being the pocket to hold the yolk as it cooks.
Braise is also French, although braiser 'to stew' was not seen in a cooking sense in Britain until the seventeenth century. The etymological trail is complex, yet seems to be identical to 'brew', the process effectively little different. Broil can be traced back to a Proto-Germanic origin and is related to the word for 'broth' and is closely related to 'brew'. Casserole is a comparatively modern creation, the first record of this in English dating from 1706 and referring to a metallic pan until 1958 when the seemingly traditional casserole dish was first seen. The name is French casserole describing 'the sauce pan'.
The word curry is Tamil, first known in the west in the 1680s. It is a Tamil word kari referring initially to the spice and later used to mean 'sauce or relish for rice'. Fricasse sounds very French and for good reason, for it comes from the Middle French fricassee meaning 'to mince and cook in sauce'. While the earlier etymology is unknown it would be most surprising if this did not come from frire 'to fry' with quasser 'to cut up'.
Scramble is an oddity and quite recent. The word is thought to be a mispronunciation of 'scrabble', first known usage of which dates from the 1580s when it is used to mean 'to struggle' or 'scrape quickly'. It is unknown in its most common modern use, that of scrambled eggs, before 1864.
To chip is a modern kitchen expression, it is derived from cipp a noun referring to 'a small piece of wood' and also used a verb to describe how such was produced - exactly as the vegetables are prepared today. Note the original noun came to be used as a verb, while as a culinary expression it was used as a verb before it became the noun describing the famous British fried chip.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

A Case of the Wind

Found the notes from another old piece this week which not only had I forgotten existed but failed to recall anything of the content. Hence reading it seemed a totally new experience for me. The piece was on the etymology of the various winds, commissioned to accompany an article looking at the upcoming Cowes Week and seemed somewhat topical. The winds of the world sort themselves into three groups: the classical, the regional, and those referring to speed and strength.

Of the classic winds, Aquilon is taken from the Roman god of the north wind, while Boreas is the Greek equivalent. Auster is the poetic south wind, it comes from Latin auster and is literally 'the southern wind'. Similarly Natus is from Notus the Greek god who was bringer of the autumnal storms, thus associated with the southern wind. Libeccio is the south or southwesterly wind which may bring a good swell and even quite violent squalls, the name comes from libeccio an Italian word derived from Latin and ultimately Greek meaning 'Libyan'. Zephyr is derived from Zephyrus, as we would expect the light breezes of spring and associated with the west wind. Favonius was the Roman equivalent. To complete the set Eurus is the Greek god of the east wind.

There are also the regional winds, mostly seasonal and having a profound influence on the climate of the region. The Mistral comes off the Mediterranean and heads northeasterly to hit the coasts and France and Spain, although it is felt anywhere from Corsica to the Balearic Islands. Mistral is from the Languedoc dialect and means 'masterly', adirect reference to this cold dry wind's dominance of the climate when it blows.
Monsoon is probably the best known of the regional winds. First used to describe the change in wind direction across the Indian subcontinent which brought very heavy rains from the south, it is now used to describe any seasonal reversal of the normal wind direction anywhere in the world. It was first recorded in English during the British rule in India, however the word is derived from Portuguese moncao, itself from Arabic mawsim, and meaning 'season'. However there may be influences from Dutch monsun and also mausam which is common to several languages in meaning simply 'weather'.
Sirocco is that which is born in the Sahara and can reach hurricane force as it hits North Africa and Europe. The modern Itlaian name is derived from the Greek sirokos and refers to this as 'easterly'. Interestingly in former Yugoslavian states, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic it is described as jugo, from an old Slavic word jug meaning 'southerly' and showing the same point of origin but from different aspects.

Lastly the everyday words used to describe the most violent of winds. Cyclone is an atmospheric disturbance which circulates clockwise in the southern hemisphere but anticlockwise north of the equator. The name is derived from the Greek kuklos meaning simply 'circle'. The most violent tropical cyclones, where winds exceeding force 12 on the Beaufort scale are known as hurricanes. With hurricanes being synonymous with the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, it is no surprise to find the name has come from huracan, from the Carib people who also gave their name to the sea. Across in the Pacific Ocean and China Sea such storms are referred to as typhoons. This is derived from the Cantonese daai fung, seen in Mandarin as da feng, and meaning 'great wind'.
When the storm spins in excess of three hundred miles per hour, particularly in North America, they are referred to as tornadoes. The name comes from two Spanish words, tronada meaning 'thunderstorm' being influenced by tornado 'turned'. Over water it produces a waterspout, an English word which is self-explanatory, while the influence of the sun's heat produces small whirling disturbances known as dustdevils, the dust is often the only sign of such although why 'devils' is unclear.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Etymology of names of the American States Part 3

Following on from the previous two weeks, here is the final helping on the examination of the origins and meanings of the names of the fifty states of the USA.

New York - when settled by the Dutch the city, which gave its name to the state, was given the name of New Amsterdam. When captured by the English in 1664 it was renamed in honour of the Duke of York, who was virtual ruler of the colony on behalf of his brother, King Charles II.

North Carolina - both North and South Carolina were named by Frenchmen Jean Ribaut and the Huguenot settlers who came here in 1560 and named it La Caroline in honour of their king Charles IX.

North Dakota - a Native American tribe the Omaha lived here, the Sioux word dakota means 'allies' and refers to the tribal union. The state was divided into North and South Dakota in 1889.

Ohio - the Native American Iroquois word ohio means 'beautiful' which was a description of the Ohio River and which was then transferred to the state.

Oklahoma - of Native American Choctaw origin where okla homa described it as the '(territory of) the red people'.

Oregon - no state has more suggestions for an origin than that of Oregon. Numerous languages have been cited, including Native American, French, Spanish, and even Iranian. Even more confusing are the definitions, including the simplistic 'hurricane' and the astonishingly far-fetched 'piece of dried apple'. The accepted origin dates from 1715 and a French cartographer who marked what is now the River Wisconsin as Ouariconsint. Unfortunately lack of space meant he required two lines and the last four letters became detached thus effectively creating a new river name of Ouaricon which was later anglicised to Oregon.

Pennsylvania - lanted granted to the Quaker William Penn was known as 'Penn's woodland', the Latin for 'wood' is silva.

Rhode Island - described in the early sixteenth century by Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazano as 'about the size of the island of Rhodes' is highly unlikely to have been the origin of this name. Dutch settlers did refer to this place as rode meaning 'red' and a reference to the colour of the soil.

South Carolina - both South and North Carolina were named by Frenchmen Jean Ribaut and the Huguenot settlers who came here in 1560 and named it La Caroline in honour of their king Charles IX.

South Dakota - a Native American tribe the Omaha lived here, the Sioux word dakota means 'allies' and refers to the tribal union. The state was divided into North and South Dakota in 1889.

Tennessee - again a state named after the local river or possibly a tribal name, the Native American Cherokee phrase Tenn-assee either refers to 'river' if it began as the watercourse or, should this be the tribe, would refer to them as having 'crooked ears'.

Texas - several suggestions, none of which are likely to be correct, and including the notion that it came from the meeting between the Native American peoples and a Spanish monk who was told they were the taxian or 'good friends'.

Utah - here is certainly the name of the Native American tribe here, the word Ute describes them and/or their mountainous homelands as 'tall'.

Vermont - a name of French origins, vert mont describes 'the green hills', the forested slopes are still the dominant feature in this part of the country.

Virginia - famously named after the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I, who died four years before the settlers arrived here in 1607.

Washington - the capital city is named after one of the nation's most famous individuals, George Washington, and the state was also named to honour the man.

West Virginia - another part of what was Virginia and became separated during the American Civil War.

Wisconsin - another state named after a river, the Wisconsin is a French version of the Native American Algonquian name thought to describe 'the long river'. Although it should also be noted there have also been suggestions of 'the grassy plain' and the highly simplistic 'our homeland' if the name refers to the surrounding land and not the river.

Wyoming - the name is from the Native American Algonquian meche-weami-ing telling it was 'the big flats at (our place)' and was in use some sixty years before it was officially adopted for the state name in 1868, after it appeared in a poem by Thomas Campbell entitled Gertrude of Wyoming.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Etymology of names of the American States Part 2

Following last week's reworking of an old piece, here is the second helping on the examination of the origins and meanings of the names of the fifty states of the USA.

Kansas - once again the River Kansas is the source, itself after the Kansa tribe (although some sources cite the reverse) said to mean 'the south wind'.

Kentucky - the River Kentucky is the source here, a name from Native American kan tuk kee 'the land dark with blood', a reference to tribal battles and showing the river took the name of the land before it returned it in the name of the state.

Louisiana - named by the French settlers fro their king Louis XIV, although the original area was much larger the modern state.

Maine - a name which has two possible derivations. If this is from the French settlers, then it is transferred from the Normandy province, itself from the Gaulish tribe of the Cenomanni 'the hill dwellers'. However English settlers would have referred to this as 'the mainland', which would easily have been misunderstood as speaking of 'the land of Main or Maine'.

Maryland - named to honour the then consort of King Charles I, Queen Henrietta Maria.

Massachussetts - another Native American name and possibly representing Algonquian massud ch es et or 'high hill, little plain'. While this would certainly fit the landscape it could never be seen as applicable for the bay which was named (in English) before the state.

Michigan - the Native American tribe, the Chippewa, had two words which are equally plausible as the origin of both the state and the lake. While it would seem that michigan is the most likely, this describes a 'forest clearing' while the alternative michaw sasigan or 'great lake' is the better definition - indeed the most likely reason is the former word being confused with the latter, which would be the true meaning.

Minnesota - the state takes the name of the river, a Native American Sioux minne sota referring to the 'cloudy water' of the silt-laden water course.

Mississippi - again a state named after a river, here the Native American Algonquian refers to the 'great river', a very apt name for the continent's longest river.

Missouri - this is also a river, the longest tributary of the Mississippi, which is a Native American Dakota term meaning 'muddy' which is an appropriate description of this heavily silted river.

Montana - a name of Spanish derivation meaning 'mountainous' and which originally applied to the small town of gold prospectors, then to the immediate territory, and finally to the state in 1889.

Nebraska - a Native American Sioux ni bthaska quite literally 'flat water' - exactly the same as seen in the French name of the Riviere Plate, anglicised to River Plate.

Nevada - a state which does not take its name from its major river but from a mountain range and one which is not even in the state. This comes from the Spanish for 'snowy range' and transferred to this range during the expedition of 1518 who saw the resemblance between these and their own Sierra Nevada in Spain.

New Hampshire - English settler Captain John Mason, who had been granted lands here by King Charles I, named this after his native Hampshire in England, a county name which describes 'the district around Hamtun', the early name for Southampton.

New Jersey - another settler, Sir George Carteret, who was granted lands here came from Jersey, one of the (English) Channel Islands, itself with a name hotly disputed by scholars with many suggested origins. The most popular is from its Norse era and thus a combination of either jarth 'earth' or jarl 'earl' with ey 'island'.

New Mexico - clearly this takes its name from the country of Mexico which it borders to the south. It was named as such by the Spanish explorer Francesco de Ibarra in 1562. Incidentally Mexico takes the name of the lake which stood roughly where Mexico City does today. Known as Metzlianan by the Aztecs this comes from metz-tli 'moon' and atl 'water', the city took the name of Metzxihco meaning 'in the navel of the waters of the moon'.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Etymology of names of the American States Part 1

After being offered the chance to rework an old piece, I thought I might clip together something of the original. The original (an idea I had after hearing an old Perry Como song) did not appear in alphabetical order but is reproduced so here purely for ease of reference (just in case you're dying to know why Wyoming?). Here then is the first in an examination of the fifty states of the US with the varied origins and meaning for each.

Alabama - the name of the Native American tribe, and their word, the language being Cree, adopted by the first French settlers for this region. Two such widely different languages meant the name has been corrupted and we have no idea if the original description was alba-aya-mule and 'we clear a way through the woodland' or alibamo 'we stay here'.

Alaska - Just off the coast are the Aleutian Islands, the inhabitants and their language were known as Aleutian and it is thought they described the large landmass as a-la-as-ka 'the mainland'. It is common knowledge that this land was sold by Russia to the US in 1867. At the time its English name was Russian America, however the Russian's always believed it to be a native name meaning 'great land'.

Arizona - Another name derived from the Native American inhabitants, whose Papago language spoke of ali-shonak 'the little spring'. The spring is no longer in the state or even in the USA but over the border in Mexico.

Arkansas - I had always wondered why the final 's' was not pronounced and it seems it was never a part of the name but simply added to the name of the River Arkansas to make it balance with neighbouring Kansas. The river name began as a Native American name Akenzea but has never been understood.

California - Several suggestions for the origin of this name, most likely named by the Spanish explorer Cortez who discovered this region in 1535 and is said to have named it from the Latin calida fornax 'the hot furnace' from its climate. Some suggest this is in fact after the legendary island ruled by the mythological Queen Caliphia. Cortez did give it another name, Santa Cruz or 'holy cross' although the many examples of this name across the continent menat this did not remain popular for long.

Colorado - named after the River Colarado, Spanish for 'the red river' and aptly named for it is stained red from the clay washed down from the upper course.

Connecticut - a Native American language, Algonquian, provided kuenihtekot, a word meaning 'the long river at'. Not the second 'c', which is silent, probably began as an error by an early clerk who confused it with the word 'connect'.

Delaware - named after one Thomas West or, more correctly, his title of Lord de la Warr. He was Governeor of Virginia in 1609 and the name was originally applied to the bay before being transferred to the state.

District of Columbia - Named after Columbus, traditionally the man who started the whole thing off by sailing west in 1492.

Florida - comes from the Spanish Pascua florida or 'flowering Easter' after being spotted from offshore on either Palm Sunday or Easter Sunday, depending upon the report.

Georgia - named after the English king George II who was on the throne when this became a British colony.

Hawaii - its two volcanoes, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, were referred to as the abode of the gods. Hence Spanish explorers named them from the Polynesian name as 'the place of the gods'. From 1778 to 1898 these were officially the Sandwich Islands, named by Captain Cook.

Idaho - a Native American name said to be from the Kiowan-Apache language and, while the meaning is by no means certain, is thought to represent either 'territory of the fish-eaters' or 'mountain gem', the latter a reference to the precious metals found in the mountains.

Illinois - another named after a river, the Illinois itself is after the Illini tribe. This is said to represent an Algonquian word meaning 'people, men, warriors'.

Indiana - named by French settlers for the large number of Native Americans who were here when they arrived in 1702. It would not have survived had it not been for the name being taken by the Indiana Company who developed the land here in the eighteenth century.

Iowa - yet again there is a river named the Iowa and, once more, it is a Native American language which has proven the basis for the name. The probelm is deciding which tribe and thus which language we should consult. Either this is Sioux meaning 'cradling' or Ayuba 'sleepy', both describing the comparatively slow speed of the waters.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Mountains, Hills and Ranges

One of the pieces I was asked to produce this week explained the origins of some of the more elevated regions of the planet. On the scale of the human lifetime hills and mountains are eternal and thus it is no surprise to find the names are generally older than the majority of settlement names. (The same is also true of rivers.)
In writing books on place names I've often come across hills composed of a number of elements, each from a different language and clearly showing successive cultures had no idea what the existing name meant and added their own. Examples include Bredon Hill in Leicestershire (there is another in Worcestershire), where the first name was Celtic bre meaning 'hill'. When the Saxons came along they added dun and referred to it as 'the hill called Bre'. Later Middle English hyll was tagged on to refer to 'the hill called Bredon', although really the name means 'hill, hill, hill'. Pendle Hill on the Cheshire/ Lancashire border is identical in meaning, while Torpenhow Hill in Cumbria actually has four elements all meaning 'hill'.
Elsewhere the highest point on the planet is the summit of Mount Everest, named after the Surveyor-General of India Sir George Everest, the Tibetans refer to it as Chomolungma or 'the mother goddess of the earth'. Kilimanjaro is an extinct volcano in East Africa with a name from Swahili kilima njaro or 'the mountain of the god of cold', even today the summit is covered in snow all year round, a strange sight in equatorial regions. Another volcano, and one which is still very much alive, is Mount Etna, a name from Greek aitho or 'burn'. Vesuvius is another famous European volcano, this is from Old Scandinavian fesf meaning 'smoke'.
The Andes is a rangle of mountains running down the western coast of South America which derive their name from the Inca word anta or 'copper', referring to the deposits of the ore to be mined here, or from a Quechuan Indian anti simply meaning 'east'. The Alps dominate the high regions of Europe, possibly from Celtic alp 'rock, mountain' although Latin alba 'white' is equally plausible. The Himalayas are not only the largest chain of mountains in the world but also the youngest. Two potential origins and meanings here, Sanskrit hima alaya would give 'the snow abode' or the deity Shimalia is said to be 'the goddess of the white mountains'. The Urals form the border between Europe and Asia. Possibly Tatar ural meaning 'girdle, belt', it may also have taken the name of the Aral Sea and thus 'island' in the sense of higher islands in the flatter surrounding plains.
The Pyreneesdivide France from the Iberian Peninsula and is derived from a Celtic ber or per 'point, summit'. The Appalachians run down the east coast of North America and have a name from the native American tribe which were found here, the Apalachee. Mount Athos in Greece is from thoos 'sharp, pointed'. The range known as the Atlas Mountains is one of the best known origins, a reference to the Greek Atlas, the god who supported the world on his shoulders. The Cascade Range takes the name of the many waterfalls on the nearby River Columbia.
Origins of the Carpathian Mountains is thought to be Thracian or Illyrian, similar languages referring either to the inhabitants the Carpi or from karpe meaning 'rock, cliff'. The Antarctic volcano of Mount Erebus took the name of the vessel of Sir James Ross which discovered it, the Erebus took the name of a Greek god associated with darkness. Closer to home Scotland's Ben Nevis is from the Gaelic beinn-nimh-bhatais or 'the mountain with its peak in the clouds'. While the tallest Welsh mountain has an Old English place name, Snowdon meaning 'the hill with snow'.

Sunday, 31 October 2010


Following the pointless exercise of putting back the clocks by an hour (which means putting them forward 23 hours if they're digital) it dawns at the end of the tenth month that it is named for being the eighth month in the previous Julian calendar. Having some knowledge of the origins of the months of the year in the Western world I wondered if the the same meanings applied to the calendar months in other languages.

What resulted was the following:

English (in use for the majority of Western nations)
January - after the Roman god Janus.
February - from the purification ritual of Februa held on the 15th of the old Roman calendar.
March - named after the Roman god Mars.
April - traditionally from the Latin aperire "to open" and a reference to the bursting leaves and flowers of spring.
May - the Greek goddess Maia, associated with fertility.
June - the Roman goddess Juno, wife of Jupiter.
July - after the Roman emperor Julius Caesar
August - and after the Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar.
September - the seventh month of the Julian calendar.
October - the eighth month of the Julian calendar.
November - the ninth month of the Julian calendar.
December - the tenth month of the Julian calendar.

Tishri - from an Akkadian (language of ancient Mesopotamia) word meaning 'to begin'.
Cheshvan - from Akkadian word for 'eighth month', Nisan being the first month of the year.
Kislev - a name meaning 'thickened' and a reference to the growth induced by the rains.
Tebet - thought be referring to 'the month of the body'.
Shevat - thought to be a reference to 'the month of trees'.
Adar - depending on the language of origin could be 'dreams' or 'father'.
Nisan - from Babylonian referring to the month when barley was ripe.
Iyar - again Babylonian and meaning 'Rosette or blossom'.
Sivan - from Akkadian meaning 'Season or time'.
Tammuz - named after the Babylonian god Tammuz.
Av - from the Babylonian calendar and thought to mean 'father'.
Elul - from the Akkadian word for 'harvest'.

Muharram - a name meaning 'forbidden'
Safar - three basic meanings for this word, although here most likely yellow or emptiness.
Rabi (1 & 2) - the (first and second) 'months beginning spring'.
Jumada (1& 2) - 'the dry months'.
Rajab - derived from a word meaning 'to respect'
Shaban - the month of ‘separation’, so called because Arabs dispersed in search of water.
Ramadan - it originally meant 'scorching heat'.
Shawwal - means 'to lift, carry' and the month when female camels would be pregnant.
Dhulquadar - means 'the master of truce' and one of the months when fighting is forbidden.
Dhulhija - means ‘possesor of the pilgrimage' and when the journey to Mecca is made.

Just to confuse matters further there are also another 41 calendars in current use elsewhere in the world, 21 more are known from ancient cultures, and we even have the Darian Calendar covering the 24 months of the year on Mars - itself later adapted to provide something for the walls of explorers to the Jovian moons of Io, Europa, Callisto, and Ganymere, and for those who venture to the Saturnian moon of Titan.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

My Hallowe'en Story

With Hallowe'en on the calendar this weekend I thought I might offer up an offering from my forthcoming book on the paranormal. Entitled Paranormal Birmingham, it covers the traditional narratives alongside the personal experiences of those who have lived and worked in this city of 1.2 million individuals.
No book on any aspect of the history of Birmingham would be complete without a mention of the Old Crown. There is no doubt this is one of the oldest buildings in the city, if not the oldest, while the actual date of construction is difficult to tie down. Early research suggested a date of 1368, however this is based on estimates from surviving records and not actual facts.
In the fourteenth century one Robert o' the Grene is documented as a co-founder of the old church of St John the Baptist. This meant they no longer had to travel to Aston parish church to worship and that he, as a founder, was earmarked to whomever owned the building which is now the Old Crown. This shows the building was here before the church and has also outlived it.
A substantial property was given as a wedding present to the daughter of Robert 'o the Grene. It is most tempting to think this was the Old Crown, indeed it would be difficult to see two such sizable buildings here which was, and remained for many years after, smaller than neighbouring Aston. When the original local historian and antiquary, John Leland, came through here in 1540 he reflected upon the 'praty strete' and its 'mansion howse of tymbar'.
Queen Elizabeth I is said to have stayed here for a single night, perhaps William Shakespeare's eyes saw the large wooden building on one of his journeys, and Prince Rupert may also have admired the even then old building when he came to Birmingham during the English Civil War. We may have to guess as to the identity of many of the historical figures, however more recent visitors and employees have documented their experiences in the Old Crown Ghost Book, a record by the individuals themselves on their personal experiences. These individuals, who shall remain anonymous, may well have been introduced to others whose memory still remains within the walls of this historical building.
Our first two stories come from downstairs in the where the public wander freely. It was November 1998 when a member of staff was taking a hard-earned break on the other side of the counter. Her mind was elsewhere, perhaps planning ahead for the coming festive season, and gazing aimlessly in the direction behind the bar by the till. Suddenly, and with nobody near, a bottle of Martell Brandy fell. It had been nestling in a wine rack to the right of the till, but came crashing down with a bang which, as the witness reported, was somehow far too loud for a breaking bottle.
Around the corner is the restaurant area. Here in September of 1998, when most of the customers had finished their meals, a doorman took the weight off his feet on the stool at the end of the bar. As he sat there he clearly saw an indistinct grey figure, difficult to say it was male of female, walk across the fireplace and into the kitchen area. It never paused when passing the lit fire, nor was it seen by the kitchen staff still tidying up after the evening meals. It had simply vanished.
However it is upstairs in the guest rooms where the most disturbing reports originate. As a member of staff pointed out, these reports have something in common. Nearly all occur between the hours of 2:50am and 3:30am, although the time does not seem relevant to the experiences, as we shall see.
It is May 2007 and in room number three a visitor from the other side of the world was spending his third night at the Old Crown. Previous nights had passed without incident, yet this was to be his last night here and he moved on to another hotel in the city centre. He was greatly disturbed when he awoke in the middle of the night and had the feeling he was not alone. Opening his eyes he turned over to see a man in his early fifties. A hazy, greyish silhouette, the stranger was not himself particularly frightening, indeed the guest said he had a kind face. Perhaps the stranger was more scared at being discovered, for he took a single step back and then vanished.
However the most activity seems to occur in room number five. On two consecutive nights in February 2000 the guest had awoken, the figures on the alarm clock glowing red at 3:26am both nights. On the first night he awoke feeling cold and wet, his first thought being he had wet the bed although this proved not to be the case. The following night he woke again feeling cold and wet, yet this time he opened his eyes to the sight of an old woman above the bed weeping bitterly. She vanished but left him wondering it had been her tears which had made him feel wet.
Our last story also comes from room number five and is rather different. Nothing was seen, so far as we are aware, although something was most assuredly felt as we shall see. It is September 1998 and two twenty-somethings were spending the night in that room. The boyfriend was awoken, needing to answer a call of nature and had arisen, leaving his girlfriend sleeping. When returning he distinctly heard her voice, not speaking but the tell-tale little moans and gasps he was quite familiar with. He crawled back into bed and she snuggled up to him, arms around one another.
It was then he was taken aback by her commenting on how that was, in her words. "The best willy ever!" He resolved never to tell her he had been otherwise engaged at the time!

Sunday, 24 October 2010

One Word, Infinite Uses

This week I combined photographing Cheshire with an appearance later that evening at the Wellington Literary Festival on Wednesday. Next day I was off to New Waltham near Basingstoke and snapped parts of Bedfordshire on the way south and researched around Hertfordshire on my return on Friday. Over the three days I managed to cover in excess of eight hundred miles and saw more than my fair share of traffic - be it moving or crawling, even at one stage allowing me to sip tea hot from the thermos while waiting for Eddie Stobart to edge forward sufficiently for a change of view.

On my rather lengthy travels along the motorways, highways and byways this week I found myself drawn to a single word on the side and rear of many lorries. During my days in engineering one of the many tasks I performed included ensuring the finished product reached its destination. Then we called them carriers, hauliers, transporters - today they use LOGISTICS. When I first saw this word on the side of many wagons I was intrigued as to why a word I had only ever used (or seen used) in a context such as "The logistics of dealing with so many people" required such a large container.

Of course no language is ever set in stone and it continually evolves. Uses of words change continually, what was initially a slang term grows in usage and is eventually listed in the Oxford English Dictionary along with its new definition. (Still baffled as to how "logistics" was ever a slang term!)

So while my great-aunt would no doubt have been deliriously happy to have been described as "gay", many would not find it so complimentary today. I always assumed "checking out" a hotel would be leaving, yet now I'm reliably informed such happens on arrival. I used to wear "pants", now to describe them as pants is pants, apparently. I would whistle tunes with lyrices of "Moon in June", today I'd be baring my buttocks in early summer. I still have Yorkshire pudding with any "beef" while others seem to use it as a vehicle to complain.

"Wags" was the family dog in many a children's story, now they appear at major sporting events in designer gear and criticised for "gaffs" (mistakes not hooks for landing fish), have "issues" (problems, not periodicals nor offspring), maybe "hammered" (drunk or criticised, not hit with a tool for nails), could be described as "wicked" (which is good, not devilish), or maybe "hot" (sexy or in vogue, not sweaty), "cool" (relaxed, not requiring an overcoat), "high" (under the influence of recreational drugs, not at altitude), and "sweet" (good again, not containing sugar).

I always thought "cheesy" snacks would have some sort of cheese flavour, perhaps I should now expect them to be tasteless. Turning "green" is to tap sustainable sources, as indeed it was when I was younger for displays of jealousy or potential for puking were just as inexhaustable. Once "camp" was comprised of tents (or maybe chicory-based coffee) but never anything remotely effeminate.

And spare a thought for poor "Jack", not only currently the most popular name for newborn males in the UK but he's also a lifting device in the boot of (most) cars, a sailor, a playing card, a flag, a male donkey, a predatory fish, a small ball, a kind of plug, a fruit, a small sphere with spikes, a labourer, a tosser, and even nothing whatsoever.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

A Final Sprinkling of Salt

A final extract from The Salt Routes, in which I follow these most ancient trade routes .

Aside from the obvious culinary uses, the chemical industry require salt to produce hydrochloric acid, caustic soda and sodium metal. Drug companies are only a part of the numerous medical uses. Salt is used in the manufacture of paint, bricks, tiles, glazed pottery, leather tanning, shampoo, glass, yoghurt pots, plastics, slug repellant, for piping, as a water softener, on icy roads, in soap manufacture, in dyes, in agriculture, and in the production of metals such as brass, bronze, aluminium, gold, silver, and zinc. Food stuffs containing salt include bacon, fish, bread, jams, ketchup, ice cream, butter, cheese, pickles, and even confectionery.

John Corbett, the Salt King, had an array of managers working for him who looked after the daily running of the Stoke Works at Droitwich. One of these men had settled at Elms Farm, just a few hundred yards walk to work each day along Weston Hall lane. Mr Grafton and his young bride regularly entertained her brother, who arrived by train and would have walked past the salt works to reach The Elms. A common enough occurrence, but one where the visitor was about to be better known than even Corbett, for Mrs Grafton's maiden name was Elgar and this was her brother Edward, later Sir Edward and Master of the Kings Music.

Those who worked on the shop floor had a hard life. Wages were poor, working conditions necessarily hot and hours were long. Whole families were engaged in producing salt, an image depicted on the statue entitled the Saltworkers. Such conditions, as seen with mining communities, where a great number of generations are tied to a particular industry through a lack of any alternative way of earning a living and with no new blood from outside, see the family names become fixed in the area.
Anyone who has traced their family tree will be aware that the first born son and daughter would be named after the father and mother. Subsequent children would then take the names of uncles and aunts, cousins and grandparents. This lead to many individuals having the same name and the community took to giving nicknames. Such were not, as is often the case today, derogatory but a reflection of the individuals skills or job and thus seen as almost a badge of office.
For example over three generations there were no less than twenty men by the name of George Harris in Droitwich. Their surname, while recorded, was hardly ever used in favour of their nickname - even by their employers. Thus we find Harris as a surname becomes Smoker, Dukes, Fantail, Pigeon, Ballis, Stafford, Tant, and even one example of one William Harris who was known as Billy Old Hen. Note this is not their christian name which is replaced here but the surname - hence we should not be looking for Smoker Harris, but Georgie Smoker.
Meanwhile other familes attracted different alternatives. The Harrison family had individuals called Banes, Cloggy, Tottenham, Buffer, Bantam, Hobby, August, Wanna, Noggy and Gomfrey. The Bourne family, who had a long association with Droitwich, kept their surname but to each was added a suffix and became Bourne-Tow, Bourne-Molly and Bourne-Column. Other branches of this family took the same route as the Harris clan, and thus we find Blue, Bobbem, Gory, Tongy, Dandy, Panto, Boniker, Rabbit, Pie and Jinkum. The Nicklin family somehow managed to acquire the nickname of Nick, through Jimmer, Joey, Harry, Peckum and Weighum. The Cuckoos were all of the Pittaway line, the Colleys became known as Toodle, and the Duggans had their name changed to Diddle.
Family connections, although the main source of nicknames, could and would be ignored in favour of a more personal reference whenever the individual was deemed to merit such. Two examples stick out, although neither of these have any written explanation but which suggest enough for us to have some idea of what was being implied. For example, maybe the morals of a lady by the name of Joe Tom George's Lizzie's Rose are questionable, to say the least. While the reader should make up their own mind as to the reasons why one gentleman was known to one and all by the name of Three-Elbowed-Dick.

In Cheshire, where the production of salt was over a wider area and other industries provided opportunites work outside salt production, the community was not reliant on a few families. However regional dialect words did develop, even as they continue to do so today despite the exposure to a more national, or even multi-national, English thanks to the ease of travel and instant interaction.
Local terms are particularly evident in jobs and in the tools used by these individuals. Common salt pans were up to one hundred feet in length and worked by gangs of men known as wallers. These men had the job of turning the evaporating brine as it thickened and the salt crystallised out. Not a pleasant job at best owing to the extreme heat and the dehydrating effect of working so closely with salt. However evaporation was never even throughout the brine mixture, even in the smallest pans and here they were huge. In order to reach every part of the pan with their rake-like implements the wallers were required to stand in half barrels placed IN the boiling brine!
Tool names varied from place to place and even from one works to another, hence a mundler, a mudling stick and a punner were all the same thing. In Victorian times the tubs and storage vats used to drain excess brine renaining in the salt were made from elm. They came in sizes known as 40s, 60s or 80s and the salt was packed down by using the mundling stuck, whereupon it would be left to dry out and produce blocks or lumps of dry salt. Other tool names included rake, chipping paddle, lofting spike, happer, skimmer, mundling peg, salt tub, cotter patch, and bagging shovel.
Commercial salt extraction started near the modern Marbury estate near Northwich around 1670. The layers of rock salt, some eighty feet thick, were mined leaving columns of rock salt supporting the ceiling. Unfortunately these caverns regularly flooded and the pillars were dissolved, causing the land to collapse into the caverns below. Taken overland to Frodsham Bridge, the rock salt was then shipped along the River Mersey where it was dissolved in sea water and refined. A rapid increase in business followed the work to make the River Weaver navigable from 1721. However all this was based on a lucky discovery, for these salt mines was only discovered by accident when John Jackson was prospecting for coal in 1670.
Salt workers everywhere were known for dipping all manner of personal items in the brine to produce highly unusual decorations. Each dipping in the brine solution left a film on the item and, as successive dippings dried, a layer of crystals became encrusted on the item. All manner of objects were dipped including plenty of old shoes.

Northwich Victoria, the local football team who regularly come to the attention of the nation when they appear in the early rounds of the FA Cup, are nicknamed the Salt Boys.
When Queen Victoria came to visit during her long reign, the town wanted to add a local flavour to the decor in order to welcome the reigning monarch. During this era decorative arches appeared in quantities not seen since the Roman era. Hence the town produced an entranceway, a construction made from local salt with the bottom supporting pillars cut from brown rock salt, topped by an archway of white salt blocks. It is not recorded how long they withstood the weathering of the British climate after the Queen and the local dignitaries had passed underneath.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Further Pinches of Salt

Carrying on from past weeks we see how salt is also ingrained into our language. We have already noted how the Latin for salt has provided us with the word salary. Yet the Roman troops were paid in salt, the common currency throughout the Empire, and the word 'soldier' is derived from this. Latin sal dare means quite literally 'to give salt' and not only gave English 'solider' but also French soldat. The word salinate, meaning 'to change completely, in essence', is derived from the Latin salinator the servant whose duty required him to pound lumps, clean and store the salt for the household. Roman salarium was the payment made to salt workers who extracted the salt, while a saller was the ancient salt box which kept the salt clean and dry and is seen today on every table as the salt 'cellar'.
However in some parts of Africa salt coinage was in use up to at least the 19th century. In very hot countries salt was even more important, vital to the health of the people and predictably taxed unfairly. Some may recall how Mahatma Gandhi took the long trek through India to the sea. Here he boiled the sea water to evaporate the water, thus highlighting how unfair it was to tax a necessity.
To "take with a grain (or pinch) of salt" warns we should be skeptical of the validity of whatever is being spoken of - in Latin this is cum grano salis and the English phrase first recorded in 1647. Another commonly heard phrase is describing someone as "worth one's salt", however this seems to be a more recent addition to the language and is not known in English before the 19th century.
Less well known, as they have largely fallen out of use, are "to sit above the salt" and "to sit below the salt". Clearly there is a demarcation line here but this is not a line of salt. In the 16th century salt was subjected to high taxation and was ridiculously expensive in comparison to today. Hence it was associated with the tables of the rich and, as it was the norm for the rich to sit at the higher tables and the rest lower down, to be seated "above the salt" recognised you were the equal of the host. Note that the salt would have been held in as ornate and expensive a container as the host could reasonably afford, for it was not sufficient to know where the salt was, it had to be clearly seen.
Some indication of the degree of taxation can be seen by the last rise imposed. It happened in the reign of William and Mary, the year was 1805 and while Admiral Lord Nelson was planning the downfall of the combined French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar, the Customs Service were raising the tax on salt to thirty pounds per ton. At the time the weekly wage of a dockworker, farm labourer and sailor was approximately seven shillings (35p), which would give the same spending power as 14 pounds a week in the early 21st century. If you consider that to be bad, spare a thought for those in Europe where the French had to be content with the equivalent of just 20p, and the German economy meant their dockers took home just 13p per week. In 1825 the despised Salt Tax was abolished by the British government, the same year as the vast salt deposits were discovered at Stoke Prior.
These were by no means the earliest known examples of salt tax. The first salt tax in England was imposed by William III (1650-1702); the Russians were taxed by Peter the Great (1682-1725); Hungary and Germany were taxed from the 13th century, France from the 12th; the Syrians paid a salt tax to Alexander the Great (336-323BC); the Romans extracted a salt tax from the Jews; Egyptian kings levied a salt tax on the priests of Hammomen; while the first datable written record of a salt tax was by Ancus Martius, author of Salinarum Vectigal in 640BC.
As the Saxon feudal system of government took shape, so the officials were quick to impose fines, tolls and taxes in any way they could. From the Cheshire wyches salt already provided a hefty income for the Earl of Chester and the Crown. Fines and tolls for those from the local hundred were at least half and as little as a quarter of those paid by visitors. For example, the toll for a cart drawn by two oxen was tuppence, for four oxen fourpence, one packhorse a ha'penny, eight manloads a penny, and these were the local rates.
Overloading a cart or horse, thus avoiding tolls, was not wise either for if the cart axle snapped or the horse's back broke within one league of the wyches meant a fine of two shillings, assuming they were caught - a league is a distance which changes depending upon the era and location, but could be seen to be the distance travelled in a single hour. Outside of that league the officer had no jurisdiction. As the salt was packed tightly into the containers, unscrupulous traders were known to split the containers to form two loosely packed loads from a single tightly packed one. While this meant the trader would have to pay twice as much in tolls, he would more than recoup that when he sold the load on. However this did not look good on the supplier and, should he be found to have split the load, would realise a massive fine of forty shillings.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Yet More Pinches of Salt

Following on from my last post another series of the unsual which makes salt a story well worth a read.

Archaeologists have shown salt to have been extracted at Droitwich since at least 200BC. However there are signs of human habitation in the area from 8000BC. This was around the time when our islands were comparatively recently separated from Continental Europe and before the nation had settled to an agrarian lifestyle. It is tempting to suggest that they were using the brine which bubbled to the surface, for they would certainly have needed extra salt in their diet. However their method of extraction left no record to prove this.

Even with the technological advances of the 21st century, salt could still have a major influence on our future and possibly even more so than in the past. The Gulf Stream brings the warmer climate of the equatorial regions along the east coast of North America and to the eastern coastline of Europe as far north as Norway. Hitting the cold waters of the Arctic one would expect warmer water to rise above it, but the increased salinity of the warmer water makes it denser and it sinks. Eventually, through a complex system the waters of the Gulf Stream return to the equatorial regions and begin the cycle once more.
Global warming melts the polar ice, introducing more fresh water into the system leading to the deflection or even cessation of the Gulf Stream. Thus the system of heat exchange around the planet is radically altered and, odd as it sounds, global warming could produce a much colder Britain as much as a warmer one.
And all because of salt.

Salt has become every much a part of culture. Not only for the traditional British fish and chips but all over the world and in the most unusual ways. In the east an honoured guest would have been welcomed by the blood of an animal sacrificed outside the entrance. In the event of a surprise visit salt would have been scattered at the entrance, thus showing that salt was considered almost the equal of blood.
Greek philosopher Aristotle, writing in the 4th century BC, encourages the eating of a measure of salt as an offer of and sealing of a friendship. Thereafter to renege on that friendship would have been tantamount to treason. Russian traditionalists have no opportunity to carry their bride over the threshold, for they will already have a lighted candle in one hand and a measure of salt in the other. Perhaps this was the same measure of salt which had been handed to the bride and groom as a traditional wedding gift. In Denmark visitors to those on their death bed will throw salt on the open fire in order to ward off the devil.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

More Salt Facts

Following on from last week's introduction to salt, which resulted a number of appreciative comments (thank you) here I produce a few facts - some may be known others not so well known.

The Salt Routes
is a journey through time as it studies the very earliest days of trade, following the routes on foot, bicycle, or even in a motor if desired.

Sodium Chloride, NaCl, occurs as rock salt or halite and is used today for much more than simply cooking. At the beginning of the 21st century, worldwide salt production was in excess of 210 million metric tonnes and hardly an industry on the planet does not make some use of this simple compound.
But where does it come from? The salt that is being extracted is the result of a dried up sea of some 220 million years ago, even when it is pumped up as saturated brine it is down to rainwater seeping down to disolved the rock salt or, in some cases, where fresh water has been pumped into the band of salt to deliberately produce brine. The salty sea derives its salt from the land, however there must have been a beginning to this cycle and the question remains, where did the salt come from? The answer is probably that it came from the land and was disolved over aeons as the land was continually washed by the rains and rivers. However there are those who maintain that the world's oceans came to our planet courtesy of the dirty snowballs called comets and, if this is the case, perhaps the salt came with it.
In ancient Egypt the preservation qualites of salt were realised. Bodies buried in the dry sand of the Sahara, with its high salt content, were soon robbed of their moisture and thus preserved. An example of the effectiveness of this simple technique is on view in the British Museum. Affectionately known as Ginger, after the tufts of ginger hair still attached to his head, the 5,000 year-old body of a man was discovered in the sands of Egypt and was even better preserved than the mummification processes later adopted for their pharaohs. Indeed it was these early burials which later developed into the mummification with which the ancient Egyptians are so well known. Some reports state how the bodies of the dead were immersed in brine for ten weeks before the embalmer got to work, while when she heard of the death of Mark Antony, Cleopatra ordered his body pickled in brine.
Salt was also used in the preparation of food left inside the great pyramids. The journey to the afterlife was a lengthy one with many tasks and trials to be overcome on the way. Clearly even the mighty pharaohs needed sustenance on the journey, thus it was that a selection of foods were left within the tombs. Clearly the food would have gone bad equally as quickly as the body and so it was heavily salted and wrapped, much the same as the mummy it was meant to feed.
The value of salt in ancient times is seen in in every major civilization that grew up around the Mediterranean. First came the Phoenicians, a people from modern-day Lebanon where there was little arable land and therefore they were forced to trade. What Lebanon did have was trees, the wood was used to build ships and the Phoenician navigators travelled all around the Mediterranean, are known to have visited Britain, the coastline around Africa and at least as far as India.
By creating channels they allowed the sea to flood the marshes, then dammed those areas and allowed the warm Mediterranean sun to evaporate the water leaving behind tons of natural salt. A simple process and one which is almost labour free when compared with the working conditions in the salt works of Cheshire and Droitwich.
Not only did the salt itself bring great wealth, but their skills as mariners saw them net great quantities of Mediterranean tuna on a scale never before seen. Tuna are fish of the open ocean and the problem had always been getting the fish to port before they started to rot. Salt enabled the Phoenicians to preserve their catch and cash in on a new market. Over one thousand years they rose in power and influence, establishing numerous cities including the most famous of Carthage in modern Tunisia.
One of the most valuable items they traded were the spices and, in this era at least, the most precious spice was pepper. The two items are still linked on tables all around the world and yet the irony is that the devaluation of salt was directly linked to the influx of pepper.
From around 600BC the Phoenician influence was in decline, hastened by something very much in the news in the 21st century - climate change. A few years of very extreme weather for the region, storms destroyed almost half of the salt pans, the rest were ruined by the incessant rain making evaporation impossible. As a result their economy was dealt a blow from which, at least collectively, they never recovered. The individual cities fell, eventually even the might of Carthage was no more.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Salt Routes

With the upcoming release of my lastest book, The Salt Routes, I thought a sample may whet your appetite. I traced and followed these routes from the two major sources across large stretches of England reaching places as far apart as Bristol, Princes Risborough, Brailes, Burnley and Knaresborough. Along the route I found clues that the salters had brought their wares this way for centuries. Sometimes I encountered modern obstacles forcing me to detour, others would have troubled our ancestors too (such as the Thames, Trent & Mersey), conversely some areas will have changed little since pre-Roman times.

Here is a sample from the introduction and does not include any of the routes. Any comments, particularly from those who have purchased a copy, will be much appreciated.

"The sources of salt were few, although clearly being an island and surrounded by salt water helped those on the coastline. Inland some salt was extracted in the northeast around Teeside, another long term source was found in Somerset, later another mine was excavated at Carrick Fergus in Ireland. However the two main sources were Cheshire and Droitwich in Worcestershire and these will provide the focal point of our journeys.
These deposits come from an ancient sea which was flooded and dried out as land and sea levels fluctuated during the Triassic and Permian geological periods around 220 million years ago. This left a bed of salt which naturally is deepest at the lowest depths of the sea. It is this band of salt many feet thick which is all that remains of the nameless sea which covered a huge swathe of the country from Teesside in the northeast across to Cheshire, Shropshire and down to Somerset and Dorset, with the western edge reaching out as far as Northern Ireland. Those who maintain that common salt is not as good as sea salt should note the huge salt deposits in Britain are all derived from some of the oldest seas on the planet, salt laid down when the seas evaporated long before it had a chance to be polluted by burning fossil fuels. Indeed many of those lifeforms which provided the fossil fuels had not yet existed.
This ancient sea was enclosed by dunes, for Europe was then much further south close to the equator and a hot sandy desert extended across much of the world's smallest continent. The planet's crust is not solid but made up of several tectonic plates, areas of the fractured crust which float on the liquid magma at the earth's core. Slipping and sliding against, over and under one another along fault lines these are the reason for earthquakes and the hotspots for volcanic activity. Creeping northwards at just inches per year, the basin was repeatedly flooded and evaporated under the burning sun.
Other outcroppings of the salt have been discovered Essex and Lincolnshire, doubtless extends under the North Sea and has been mined on the Continent at sites such as Lorraine in France, De Panne in Belgium, at Hallstatt and Hallein in Austria, at Halle in Germany, and at Krakow in Poland. Note these names, Halle, Hallein and Hallstatt are all from Celtic hall meaning 'salt'; the Hallein Salt Mine is in the region of Salzburg, a meaning 'salt castle'; The same word is also seen in English place names Halsall, Halstead and Halwick. Another link between the Celtic and German comes from the Celtic grava meaning 'grey hairs' and once used to describe those Celtic officers responsible for regulating salt and which is preserved in the German title Graf the equal of a Count or Earl.
The extent of the salt brine lake beneath Droitwich has never been understood. However the two points of extraction, at Droitwich and Stoke Prior, are undoubtedly fed by the same source for it was shown that they were always at the same depth and of the same concentration. These figures never changed, no matter how wet or dry the season.
Gathering salt began in prehistory when sea water was evaporated by throwing it on to hot rocks around a fire and scraping off the resulting crystals. Prior to the arrival of the Romans, the Britons were evaporating brine in pottery pans supported on mud bricks over a wood fire. These pans were approximately two feet square and approximately half an inch thick, clearly these dimensions show the pans were produced solely for salt production as they would have been virtually useless as anything else.
The Romans arrived and produced their own pans, made from lead. While lead may have been more practical, not only longer lasting but also more efficient heat transfer, today we would also question the wisdom of using a metal which would have brought the real danger of lead poisoning. One Roman salt pan is on display in Warrington Museum, measuring approximately three feet by one foot and six inches deep.
The majority of routes we shall be following are based on evidence from the later Saxon era and a Saxon pan has been uncovered too. Measuring two feet square and three inches in depth, this would have held seven gallons of brine and produced fourteen pounds of salt. We know from Domesday that a fully laden horse carried fifteen boilings which, multiplying this out, comes to approximately two hundredweights and thus a train of ten pack animals carried a ton of salt overland.
Each packhorse carried eight of the conical containers which characterises Droitwich salt, four on each side. As salt is so readily soluble it is these containers which mark the salt as being from Droitwich, an important clue when there are no recorded salt rights. These containers were called mitts and, as was common during medieval England, another example of a measure of dry goods by volume rather than weight. Unlike other measures such as bushels and pecks, used to measure grain, a mitt was only used for salt and hence would have been always around two stones or twenty-eight pounds in weight.
Even if the salt had survived to the modern day it would have been difficult to state exactly where it had come from, yet evidence can be found. Documented records of settlements with salt rights, place names refer to salt in the roads, hills, streams and stopping places along the distribution network, and archaeologists have discovered evidence of the baskets or mitts which carried the salt. Such archeological remains have been found at thirty-five sites in England, while Domesday quotes sixty-eight other manors with rights to receive salt from Droitwich, none of which are more than a few miles north of the town. This shows the settlements north of here received their salt from an alternative source, which is clearly the Cheshire wyches. It is clear there was no healthy competition between the two, the lines had been drawn early by the Saxon feudal system and were not crossed.
Sometimes salt was linked to a single destination and it takes a little detective work to find out the association. For example, north of Redditch in Worcestershire is a Salters Lane which appears to be heading for Bordesley Abbey. This is the only road or lane out of fifteen documented between 777 and 1042 which cannot be placed on a known salt route. Furthermore, there is no reference to salt rights for Bordesley Abbey in any of the usual documents. Yet the trail can be followed between the two places, linked by Christianity.
In a charter bearing the seal of Richard I, the gift of land at Droitwich is made to Bishop Simon (1125-50) of Bordesley Abbey. Along with the land came the salt pit, while in a contemporary document the annual value of the salt to the abbey (while the source is not named) is given as four pounds and eight shillings.
Such routes did not simply run from A to B but, like the tributaries of major rivers in reverse, filter out into an array of routes and thus serve whole regions. Furthermore these tendrils often weave intricate patterns and interchange. These were not bus or train routes and did not follow either timetable nor the same route every time. To show this we shall be travelling alternatives branching off a from the main route.
While there are no maps of the early routes, we can safely assume that the roads of today naturally follow a line at least close to the earlier tracks. Stand back and take a long look at any map of the country and see how A-roads, canals, and railway lines all follow similar paths. Not only do they avoid the obvious hills and mountains, the valleys and rivers, but take every opportunity to stay on as even a path as possible.
Engineers are well aware how much it costs to go over or through an obstacle when compared to a flat plain or nice gentle inclines, while any cyclist or walker will soon feel the hill. Similarly the earliest travellers were in for the long distance and would have taken the easiest path, through a valley cut by the river, or along the ridge of higher land and away from avoiding the wetter lowlands. It is difficult not to see the wild animals following the same routes, moving from one feeding ground to the next as the seasons progress. Keep this in mind as we follow a number of routes across the country in the following pages, it will make the reasons for each track easier to understand and follow.
This book not only contains details of the salt routes, but also looks at some of the people and places for whom salt extraction was a way of life, a very tough way to earn a living indeed. We shall also look at some of the uses of salt and, as we will see, how this simple compound is linked to so many aspects of life in the modern era, throughout recorded history and long before. We shall see how it affected cultures, empires, language, economies and even the climate."

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Ley Lines Across the Midlands

In 2009 my first walking book was published, a book which is virtually a prequel to my series on the origins of place names for it was my interest in ley lines which resulted in the eventual books on the origins of place names. It was probably only a matter of time before I turned my attention to the ancient trackways of England and, in particular, to my native Midlands. For those who may want to explore this further, I reproduce the introduction here. Copies are, of course, available in the time honoured 'all good book shops' or directly from the author if you drop me a line. Any comments would be appreciated..........

"Within these pages we will tread the paths walked by our ancestors some 4,000 and more years ago. The routes will take us through some of the loveliest countryside to be found anywhere, some with breathtaking views from the summits of hills, doen to the valleys below. Sometimes the trackways still pass through woodland, as they did when created to provide safe passage from one hill fort to another.
None of the original markers have survived or, if they have, cannot be shown to be originals. However, the markers which have replaced them are still seen, providing a history lesson everywhere we look; not only cultural history but natural history too, for a wealth of flora and fauna have made these regions their homes. Yet were it not for man's creation of these environments, England would still be one vast woodland; if so many of the plants and animals would never have thrived here, whether they had made their way to our shores or had been introduced by man. This book will have something for thise interested in history both ancient and modern, the natural world, walking, or even those who simply delight in this green and pleasant land.
Having walked these ancient paths for the most part, I was forced to walk them twice - from the car and back again. However, this provided me with the opporunity to see everything from both aspects, which revealed many things I had not noticed on my outward journey - and these pathways were traversed both ways.
I have no idea how many miles I walked in preparing these pages, although my level of fitness has improved beyond all expectations. My thanks are due to all those who rediscovered the trackways I trod and pointed me in the right direction. Furthermore, without all the establishments that provided a meal for a hungry man and a bed for his very weary legs, I would still be walking today.
To experience the feeling of standing at the site of a hill fort which would have been a hive of activity for centuries was very moving. This path was one which others had walked almost since mankind had abandoned the life of the hunter-gatherer, forming permanent settlements and adopting the farming life. Images formed of the landscape around me as it would have appeared before Stonehenge and the much earlier Avebury circles were even thought about.
When I walked the land the changing images of Saxon, Romano-British, Iron Age, Bronze Age and Neolithic times were remarkably easy tos ee. As you follow my journeys in the ensuing pages I hope you are able to glimpse some of the things I saw."

Tracing the ancient trackways provided me with an avenue to explore pre-history from a very different perspective. I climbed a few hills, walked many a mile and, owing to the obligatory 'instant energy rations' strapped to my back (courtesy of the Cadbury organisation) never managed to lose more than the odd pound or two - in fact I just got very hungry!
Much of the early travel was for trade, a bartering of commodities in which they were not self-sufficient. The one item very few were able to produce for themselves was salt, scarcity made it valuable, and increased demand. Today the salt roads still exist and it was natural that after following the early tracks I then turned to the first trade roads and thus produced The Salt Routes. It is to this subject that I will turn next time.

Ley Lines Across the Midlands is available from the author or direct from the publishers:

Incidentally, for those who will be in the region of Ryton XI Towns in Shropshire this coming Wednesday 15th September, I shall be speaking on the subject of Shropshire Place Names. All visitors are welcome and books will be on sale (at a reasonable discount). It would be a pleasure to meet you.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Double U

Words which contain 'u' twice with no intervening letter are rare, indeed there are only eight proper English words (most of which come from Latin) and another two borrowed from other languages.

vacuum = a space
continuum = a continous sequence
residuum = a chemical residue
menstruum = the matter discharged during menstruation
triduum= a three-day period of religious observance in the Catholic Church
duumvir = each of a pair of magistrates holding joint office in ancient Rome
duumvirate = a coalition of two people having joint authority
Weltanschauung = the world view of a particular individual or group (from German)
muumuu = a loose dress traditionally worn in Hawaii (from Hawaiian) which qualifies twice!

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Pertaining to eleven.

We all know the sequence which begins primary, secondary, but what comes after?

Rarely used it continues tertiary, quaternary, quinary, senary, septenary, octonary, nonary, denary, giving us all the way up to ten. There is also duodenary which relates to twelve but there is no word for eleven and never has been.

Any suggestions?

Friday, 20 August 2010

A Billion, More or Less

When I was young I had a 'pocket encyclopaedia' given to me when my parents bought my first school uniform before heading off to grammar school. Of course 'pocket encyclopaedia' is a contradiction in terms, however it did feature one interesting point which I well recall thinking must have caused much confusion between nations. Recently the problem came back to mind and I thought I would share.

The problem concerned the billion which, as we all know, equates to one thousand million or 1,000,000,000. However in those far off days of the 1960s this was common to Continental Europe and the USA, while good old Blighty used one million million or 1,000,000,000,000.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Q can exist without U

A number of words containing the letter 'q' have come from other languages to be included in the English dictionary, thus making them the only words to feature 'q' and not followed by 'u'.

niqab - a veil worn by some Muslim women
qanat - (in the Middle East) an irrigation channel
qawwal - a performer of qawwali
qawwali - Muslim devotional music
qibla - the direction towards Mecca
qigong - a Chinese system of physical exercises
qintar - a monetary unit of Albania
QWERTY - the standard layout of typewriters and keyboards (the only word not imported)
tariqa - the Sufi method of spiritual learning

Any others?

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Singular Plurals

When you get to thinking about oddities of words a string of peculiarities occur. Hence I make no apologies for continuing the theme.

There are many English words which only exist in the plural or do have a form without that final 's' but which has a different meaning or used in an utterly different context. I came up with the following list, any others?

Bellows, binoculars, forceps, gallows, glasses, pliers, scissors, shears, tongs, braces, briefs, jeans, knickers, pants, pyjamas, shorts, tights, trousers, economics, physics, ethics, entrails, hustings.

Any more?

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Longest English Words

Further to my earlier post, further research has produced a number of other examples of candidates for 'the longest words - a little fun, nothing more.

antidisestablishmentarianism opposition to the disestablishment of the Church of England - 28 letters

floccinaucinihilipilification the estimation of something as worthless - 29 letters

pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis a supposed lung disease - 44 letters

You're unlikely to come across these words in genuine use: they're generally just provided as answers to questions about the longest words in the English language.

In terms of sheer size, however, the longest word to be found in Britain is the Welsh place name Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. For obvious reasons, it's usually abbreviated to Llanfair PG.

The 20-volume historical Oxford English Dictionary includes other very long words, most of which are highly technical. These include:

otorhinolaryngological - 22 letters
immunoelectrophoretically - 25 letters
psychophysicotherapeutics - 25 letters
thyroparathyroidectomized - 25 letters
pneumoencephalographically - 26 letters
radioimmunoelectrophoresis - 26 letters
psychoneuroendocrinological - 27 letters
hepaticocholangiogastrostomy - 28 letters
spectrophotofluorometrically - 28 letters
pseudopseudohypoparathyroidism - 30 letters

People sometimes ask whether a DNA string can be considered as the longest English word, given that they can run to many thousands of letters. The answer is no: they're regarded as chemical names rather than genuine words in the sense of meaningful items of vocabulary. The same is true of the formal names of chemical compounds. These can be almost unlimited in length (for example, aminoheptafluorocyclotetraphosphonitrile, 40 letters) and many contain numerals, Roman and Greek letters, and other symbols, as well as ordinary letters. We don't tend to regard these terms as proper 'words'.

Monday, 26 July 2010

More on the subject of one syllable...

Additional to my recent comments on the longest word with only one syllable .....

I found an article suggesting those most commonly cited are screeched (nine letters), scratched, scrounged, scrunched, and stretched. Other sources suggest Oxford English Dictionary also has scraughed, scrinched, scritched, scrooched, sprainged, spreathed, throughed, and thrutched. It includes, too, a single instance of the ten-letter word scraunched, from the 1620 English translation of Don Quixote, a novel by the Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes. Yet I cannot see how the suffix -ed can be anything but a syllable in its own right. Thus I suggest the plural nouns straights and strengths (nine letters) are the longest.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

More on the subject of no vowels....

Additional to my recent comments on the longest word without a vowel .....

Words without vowels
A large number of Modern English words replace the 'ee' or 'eye' sound with the letter Y, such as try, sky, why, gym, hymn, lynx, myth, myrrh, pygmy, flyby, and syzygy. The longest such word in common use is rhythms, and the longest such word in Modern English is the obsolete 17th-century word symphysy. (If archaic words and spellings are considered, there are many more, the longest perhaps being twyndyllyngs, the plural of twyndyllyng.)
In the computer game The 7th Guest, one of the puzzles involves a vowelless sentence,
Shy gypsy slyly spryly tryst by my crypt.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

A Matter of Opinion

Never fails to amaze how two people can read the same book and come to completely different conclusions. A reviewer of my Black Country Ghosts from The History Press purchased the book through and later posted a review:

However across the Atlantic a second customer purchased the book through and later gave a different opion:

Two things come to mind. Firstly it is a pity the two reviews cannot be linked to appear on the same page whether views on or .com. And of course there is also a greater likelihood of a review for those who are dissatisfied. Thus budding authors, while taking comments on board, should also balance any criticism with the knowledge that there is probably a very satisfied and unseen reader out there.

Incidentally the dissatisfied customer who bought Black Country Ghosts in the UK may not have been quite as unhappy with my work as it seemed, for he later purchased another of my books. While they also went on to write a bad review of that second book, it did raise the point as to why a second book was purchased by the same author - unless, as I suspect, it was simply to give a bad review.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Mispronounced Place Names

As an author with an interest in place names it is often interesting to see the differences in pronunciation - a good example was Shrewsbury, discussed in my blog of November 2009. There are many other place names which are mispronounced ostensibly because, as with Shropshire's county town, the name was created at a time when the vast majority of the population were illiterate and the English dictionary did not yet exist. Hence those few individuals who could read and write were free to spell however they saw fit and not until the population were literate was the name read by those who had never heard it said (or who did not recognise the name) and therefore mispronounced. (Note these are examples of accepted pronunciation and nothing to do with local pronunciation or regional accents, which is an entirely different subject.)

Among the many (English) place names often mispronounced are:
Beaconsfield in Berkshire - which should be said 'beckon's-field'
Fowey in Somerset - is pronounced 'foy' (as in toy)
Alnwick in Northumberland - should be said as 'annick'
Alrewas in Staffordshire - should be 'allrus' (rhymes with walrus)
Tonbridge in Kent, Honiton in Devon, and Romsey in Hampshire - Tunbridge, Huniton, Rumsey
Derby and Derbyshire - it is 'darby'
Berkshire - is 'barkshire'
Towcester - is 'toaster'
Wymondham - 'windum'
Iwerne Minster and Iwerne Courtney - the basic name is said as 'yew earn'.
Todmorden - 'tod-muh-dun'
Mousehole - 'mow (as in how) zel'
Belvoir - 'beaver'
Leominster - 'lem-ster'

As I have stated several times, place names are rarely created by the occupants but by the neighbours - most are simply descriptions of the place. To those who live there it is simply 'home'. A couple of years ago I spoke on the subject of place name origins in the village of Parwich in Derbyshire. Not wishing to mispronounce the name and upset the locals before I'd even started I asked the audience how they pronounced it. While many outside Parwich pronounce it as 'pah-rich', those present responded with both 'pah - wich' and 'porrich'. This immediately brought some surprised looks and was something I found most interesting for it shows how the residents never used the name of the place when speaking to one another.

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?