Sunday, 26 August 2012

British Football Club Name Terminology Explained

Writing innumerable pieces on the origins of place names, the meanings often come to my mind at the strangest moments. The exit boards at the side of the motorway are an obvious reminder, surnames are another. However the reading of the football results on a Saturday afternoon brought to mind not so much place names as the other half of the team name.

Some require no explanation, Town tells us their home is just that, City too, as indeed does the less common County. Teams known as United show they were formed by the union of two (or more) earlier football clubs. Both Wanderers and Rovers share an origin in informing all that, at least in the earliest days, they had no permanent venue for home games. Athletic, too, is indicative of the sport which was the original reason for the formation of the club.

Less obvious, but still recognisable, are the team from Nottingham known as Forest, clearly a reference to the home of the legendary outlaw in Sherwood Forest. Similarly in Scotland the Thistle is adopted by teams wishing to show pride in their nation and leaving no doubt as to which nation that is in the form of the national emblem.

Albion has been adopted by teams as it is the archaic name for Britain. However in the case of West Bromwich Albion, the first to adopt the suffix, it was a district of West Bromwich where the earliest players and founders of the team lived and worked for the the George Salter's Spring Works. Leyton Orient were formed in 1881, although known by several other names until 1888. The club's historians insist this unusual name came from a suggestion made by a team member, one Jack Dearing, whose day job was with the Orient Shipping Company, later a part of P&O.

The addition in the case of the team from Plymouth has always been debated. Founded as Argyle in 1886 there have been at least three suggestions of the origin. There is a local street called Argyle Terrace and an Argyle Tavern, both of which have been suggested as the original meeting place for the club's founders. However the most popular, and indeed the most likely, is it was named to honour the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, a regiment who had had a strong amateur football team for many years, probably in the hope it would inspire such success in Plymouth.

A similar story is found behind the name of Crewe Alexandra. Founded in 1877, it is said the club were named after the meeting took place in a pub named after Princess Alexandra, later to be queen consort to Edward VII. Unfortunately no official record was kept of this momentous occasion, thus this origin cannot be certain. Crewe can also claim to be one of the most often mispronounced names in British football, more often mistakenly referred to as Crewe Alexander.

Aston Villa were formed in 1874 and based in the Aston area of Birmingham. The four founders were members of the Villa Cross Wesleyan Chapel Cricket Team looking for something to occupy them during the winter months, hence they were thereafter known as 'the Villa'. Arsenal are also known for the latter part of their name, however in their case the first part of the name has been lost completely. Formerly known as Woolwich Arsenal, the team comprised workers at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich, hence the nickname of 'the Gunners'.

Arsenal's North London rivals are Tottenham Hotspur. Another club with a unique suffix, which again dates back to its founding. As with Aston Villa, the grammar school boys from All Hallows Church bible class decided to find themselves something to do during the winter months when they could not play cricket. They were members of the Hotspur Cricket Club, hence the name, although how the cricket club got its name is uncertain. It could be there was some supposed link with Sir Henry Percy, known as 'Harry Hotspur' in Shakespeare's plays, who certainly lived near here during the fourteenth century.

Rochdale Hornets were formed by a local rugby team, the name of 'Hornets' an alternative to 'Wasps' which, somewhat predictably, remarked on the horizontal stripes of the shirts. Sheffield Wednesday were so named for they were formed by a cricket club of that name, a reminder that this was the day of the week on which they played all their matches. The very young will be unaware that Milton Keynes based M K Dons were formerly Wimbledon and known as 'the Dons'. Unfortunately they were forced out of their home of Plough Lane by the local council and, with no local alternative stadium, shared grounds until settling in their present home.

While Tottenham were founded by schoolboys, it was as members of the cricket team that they clubbed together. This leaves just one professional club in Britain to be founded directly from a school football team. North of the border the name of Hamilton Academical tells of its beginning. Founded by Hamilton Academy in 1874, the 'Accies' are one of the world's oldest surviving football clubs.

As founder members of the Football League, Accrington Stanley were mourned when they went into liquidation in 1966. This original club took the addition when they began playing in Stanley Street, the former home of Stanley Villa. The present club, winning promotion to League 2 in 2006, were founded in 1968 and played their first competitive match in August 1970 and named to honour the original.

Rangers are the most successful club in the history of Scottish football. It is known their name was chosen by the four founders in 1872. The inspiration came from, of all things, a book on English rugby. It seems any other 'Rangers' simply took this from the Scotland club.

I would welcome any suggestions for themes or subjects, or even specific words to examine the origins, meanings and etymologies. I’d be delighted to hear from you.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Waterfowl Names Examined

As children waterbirds were probably our first introduction to wildlife. Few of us were not taken down to the local pond or park armed with bread for the ducks, swans and perhaps even geese.

Several times in our history these birds were highly prized, maybe for their meat and/or as the goal for some forgotten sport. Obviously in the earliest days these were hunted solely for their meat and it would have been then that hunters would have differentiated between the various waterfowl in order for them to be quite aware of what they hoped to bring back to the table. It will be noted that some of the species discussed below are not strictly waterfowl but simply birds associated with water. No apologies are made for include these species with which we are all so familiar.

Of course the ducks are probably the most populous of all waterbirds. They derive their name from the characteristic dabbling or diving underwater for food, and it comes from Old English duce meaning 'to duck, dive'. Oddly this was not the original Old English word for the duck, that was ened which is largely unchanged since the earliest known aneti of Proto-Indo-European beginnings.

It has always been debated as to why the Saxons stopped using ened in favour of duce, most likely that the act of 'ducking' was a different word to the noun 'duck' but eventually the former fell out of general use. Duckling is simply 'the small duck' and quite recent, while the mallard is simply an early corruption of 'male duck'.

While geese is simply a mispronunciation of goose, the singular form can be traced virtually unchanged through many ancient European languages. The very earliest form is the Proto-Indo-European ghans which has filtered down to modern English as 'gander', ie the male goose. Both the goose and ghans can only be an imiation of the bird's cry, most often said today to be a 'honk'. Gosling is clearly a 'small goose' and a rather recent development.

All herons share the basic body shape of a wading bird, long legs and a long neck. However they are unique in being the only birds with a long neck which do not fly with the neck extended but drawn right back against the body, a characteristic which makes them easily identifiable in flight. The name can me traced back to Proto-Indo-European griq or 'shriek, cry' and imitative of the cry of these birds. The crane is a similar bird and easily confused with the heron, indeed the name in Old English referred to both creatures and there is every indication they share the same derivation of their respective names. Egret is from Old French aigrette also meaning 'heron'.

Recently making a comeback to Britain, the osprey was named quite late. It comes from the Middle Latin avis prede literally 'bird of prey' and, while this originally referred to any hawk, was mistakenly thought to refer to this species.

Some names speak for themselves. Anyone who has had their food plucked right from their hand by a gull in flight will understand why they were named from the verb 'to swallow'. A dipper dives below the surface of the young streams seeking the larvae on which they feed, they also move with a decided 'dipping' motion either of which could have been the reason for the name. Most kingfishers do exactly what their name suggests, however the bird with which we are so familiar is also known as the halcyon. This refers to the supposed halcyon days of calm at the winter solstice when the mythical bird bred in a nest floating on the calm seas.

The young of the swan is known as a cygnet, derived from Latin cygnus and Greek kyknos both meaning 'swan'. These are from Proto-Indo-European keuk meaning 'to be white', this was from the time when all swans were considered to be white, before the discovery of Australia and its native black swans.

The swan itself has the strangest of origins. The term is Germanic, seen in Old English swan, Old Norse svanr, Middle Dutch swane, and Proto Germanic swanaz - ultimately from Proto-Indo-European swon 'to make sound'. Thus this is literally 'the singing bird' but swans are hardly the greatest singers of the bird world. Hence this is probably mythological, indeed in the Greek stories the swan is sacred to both Apollo and Venus and held to sing only in the last moments before death.

I would welcome any suggestions for themes or subjects, or even specific words to examine the origins, meanings and etymologies. I’d be delighted to hear from you.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Yet More Nursery Rhyme Origins

A couple of earlier posts looked at the history behind the nursery rhymes which have been recited by (and to) our children for many generations. Having already covered the majority, here are the few remaining:

Lavender Blue was recorded by a number over the years. Burl Ives was the first although probably best-known is that by Marillion, correctly adapted by Marillion. The earliest known reference dates from around 1680, where it was called Diddle Diddle or the Kind Country Lovers. This record interestingly states it should be sung to the tune of Lavenders Green, showing there was already a song in existence (albeit one with a different colour). Maybe this is not the song we should be teaching our children for, at least originally, it is entirely about sex and drink. Breaking down the original lyric it tells of how the man tells the woman she has to love him (because he loves her), that there is a vale nearby where she should lie down with him (simply because he desires it), and that she should also accept his dog. The more suitable modern version developed from around the early nineteenth century.

Little Boy Blue shares the blue colour but little else. The earliest written record comes from 1744, however this is thought to be much older. Some sources suggest this either comes from, or shares an origin in, Shakespeare’s King Lear. In Act III Scene VI, Mad Tom utters the lines: “Sleepest or wakest thou, jolly shepherd? Thy sheep be in the corn and for the blast of thy manikin mouth thy sheep shall take no harm.”

Staying with both ‘little’ and ‘Shakespeare’ themes we find Little Bo Peep. First seen in the early nineteenth century, it has been suggested there was a children’s game called Bo-Peep dating from the sixteenth century and one which was referred to in King Lear. However in Ninfield, East Sussex it is held Bo-Peep was their most famous resident of yesteryear. A smugglers’ stronghold locals believe she was paid to walk her sheep across the shore to hide the footprints of the smugglers.

Another ‘little’ character is Little Miss Muffet. Again this appears in print for the first time in the early nineteenth century, this in a book called Songs for the Nursery. Suggestions as to the origins are many, including that it refers to Mary, Queen of Scots, yet none have any credibility and the origins are a mystery. Reliable sources inform me one child some fifty or more years ago unwittingly rewrote the third line so it telling of how the young lady was “…..eating her curtains away.”

London Bridge is Falling Down is first seen in the middle of the eighteenth century. However this has nothing to do with London or England, indeed there are versions at least twice that age set in Denmark, Germany, France and Italy. It seems all will have a common origin, the known versions simply adaptations, yet without knowing what the original was it is impossible to give a meaning.

Mary Had A Little Lamb was the first line of an old rugby song I encountered in my rugby union days. The second line of “She kept it in a bucket” shows this had nothing to do with the nursery rhyme other than the first line and the tune. As a rhyme it was first published in 1830, and for once we know this is based on a real incident. One Mary Sawyer had a pet lamb and, egged on by her brother, took the animal to school when one John Roulstone was studying with his uncle, a minister, to prepare for college. Roulstone was delighted by the event and next day made a special journey on horseback to the old school to hand her a piece of paper. On that paper was written the three original stanzas of the poem entitled Mary Had A Little Lamb.

Monday’s Child first appears in print in 1830. This cannot be the origin for these early horoscope-style rhymes were known by the sixteenth century and probably much, much older.

Nuts in May is first recorded in a book entitled The Traditional Games of England, Scotland and Ireland at the end of the nineteenth century. The title telling us it was already well established. It takes very little thought to see why nuts are not gathered in the month of May in the United Kingdom and thus it seems inevitable the title is a corruption – possibly of ‘knots of may’ which would them refer to small posies of may blossom, produced by the hawthorn. This is also the origin of the phrase “Ne’er cast a clout to may is out”, a reference to the appearance of may blossom and not the end of the month.

Old King Cole is generally accepted to recall a Welsh royal. The evidence said to be that Coel is a Brythonic name and records are found of a Coel Hen (Coel the Old) in Romano-British history. He is said to have been born in AD85 in Wales and died in Colchester in AD170, making him one of the oldest people in England at the time. While the significance of the bowl is unknown, the pipe and the fiddlers are almost certainly both musical and suggest the king was known for his musical talent.

Old Mother Hubbard first appears in print in 1805, the rhyme almost unchanged over the next two centuries. Many explanations have been offered and yet, if this is a political satire, it is a mystery as to what or whom is being satirized.

One, Two Buckle my shoe first appears in print in 1805. Unlikely to have ever been a meaning for what was one of many traditionally counting rhymes

One, Two, Three, Four, Five is another counting rhyme and, as with the previous example, likely has no hidden meaning. First published in the middle of the eighteenth century, it is interesting to note the original English version featured a hare instead of a fish.

Oranges and Lemons is a traditional children’s singing game, first published in the middle of the eighteenth century. It seems unlikely to have any of the gruesome origins usually attributed to it - Henry VIII’s wives, public execution, and even child sacrifice – for these rely on the last two lines: “Here comes a candle to light you to bed, here comes a chopper to chop off your head. Chop, chop, chop, chop, the last man’s dead” and these lines are comparatively recent additions and are not seen in early printed versions. Thus this probably represents a tour of the churches of London although why is unclear.

Pat-a-cake, Pat-a-cake, Baker’s Man first appears in print in 1698, not as a stand alone verse but as lines in the play The Campaigners by Thomas D‘Urfey. The lines are spoken by a nurse to children and thus shows, even then, it was simply a child’s signing game. It is difficult to see it as anything else.

Pease Porridge Hot makes its debut in print in 1760, the origins are unknown but would have been ‘pottage’ and not ‘porridge’ originally.

Peter Piper is a toungue twister first published in 1813 by John Harris in his book Peter Piper’s Practical Principles of Plain and Perfect Pronunciation – a challenging title to read aloud. Earlier versions are unknown and could have been written solely for the work, in which case the subject may be eighteenth century Mauritian administrator Peter Poivre, who examined the possibility of using the Seychelles for cultivating spices.

Polly Put the Kettle On is first mentioned in print in 1841, when Charles Dickens speaks of it in his work Barnaby Rudge. The tune, if not the lyric, was known in 1770 while the earliest versions speak of ‘Molly’ and not ‘Polly’. It would seem this is simply a children’s song from the Georgian era, when middle class English families would use Polly as a pet form of Mary and Sukey for Susan.

Pop Goes the Weasel has a number of printed references, all in the first half of the 1850s and nothing earlier. This may be sufficient proof the rhyme was written around this time. Much has been suggested regarding its origins which would certainly be from London. Indeed the Eagle public house still stands on the corner of City Road, as mentioned in the lyric which can be found on a plaque inside the pub to this day. Ironically every suggestion as to the origin always meets the same obstacle, the title and first line which has never been understood.

Rain Rain Go Away seems a perfect rhyme for British weather and can be traced back to at least the seventeenth century. However this is not solely British for it is common to many much older cultures including the ancient Greeks.

Thus ends the third and final look at the beginnings of traditional nursery rhymes.

I would welcome any suggestions for themes or subjects to examine the origins, meanings and etymologies. Feel free to drop me a line.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Why fish?

The question is not querying the verb. We fish today for sport and/or for food, the kitchen being the only reason for fishing historically. Undoubtedly the verb 'to fish' is derived from the word used as a noun. The word can be traced back to Proto-Indo-European peisk but undoubtedly existed thousands of years before this. Indeed it is quite likely this was among the earliest words ever used by humans.
Here we are interested in the etymology of the names of the individual species of fish. It is true to say we eat far less fish today than was ever eaten historically. Until recently salmon was an expensive and highly prized fish, although farming has not only reduced the price but made it available to all. This is nothing new, for in medieval times the fish was so plentiful legislation was passed prohibiting any lord of the manor from providing it to his charges more than three times in a single week.
Of course before they reach the table they have to be caught. Not every fish is the same, size, habitat, quality of the meat, all are taken into consideration and have different names to identify them to the angler and as a pointer to the cook, for not all fish are prepared the same way.
Some fish names are quite obvious. For example the angelfish is named for its apparent wings; the catfish for the whisker-like feelers which sense its surroundings in the murky waters in which it lives; while in the case of the bass, its name can be traced back through Proto-Germanic bars 'sharp' to Proto-Indo-European bhors 'bristle', both of which refer to the spines of the dorsal fins; and the stingray really does have barb and a 'sting in the tail'. These spines are even more pronounced in the perch, although that name comes from its stripes and is seen in Sanskrit prsnih 'variegated' and ultimately Proto-Indo-European perk 'speckled, spotted'.
The bream can be traced to Proto-Germanic brehwan 'to shine, glitter, sparkle' and referring to the scales, and earlier still to Proto-Indo-European bherek similarly meaning 'gleam, flash'. When it comes to the conger eel, the addition of 'eel' is unneccessary for Latin conger already describes 'the sea eel'. Further back in the language tree to the original Proto-Indo-European geng referring to the shape of the fish as 'the rounded object'. Smelt is a Dutch word describing 'the sand eel'.
The dace is a small freshwater fish with a name appropriate to its movements. This comes from Old French darz meaning 'to dart'. Although both tuna and tunny bear no resemblance to the humble dace, the name means the same 'to dart' but comes from Greek thynnos and/or Latin thunnus.
A flounder is a flatfish which is traceable back to at least the early Greek platys which does indeed confirm it as 'flat, broad', the same word also gave a name to the flat food fish, the plaice. A more recent naming of a flatfish is that of the sole, it is likened to the sole of a sandal and can only be said to refer to it as 'a flatfish'.
The gar is identified by its long snout, it being named from Old High German ger or earlier Proto-Indo-European ghaiso meaning 'stick' or 'spear'. Similarly the pike is known for its long pointed jaw, it was also the name of a weapon, and the swordfish is named for its many-teethed long jaw.
A hake is still a popular food fish, although rarely seen whole on the fishmonger's slab. It's name is derived from the hooked shape of its jaw, Old English haka and Old Norse haki mean 'hook'. The lamprey, once a prized foodsource, was named by the French and derived from Latin lambere petra literally 'lick rock' for the creature's habit of attaching itself to any manor of things by its mouth.
It is difficult to see if the anchovy is from Greek aphye 'small fish' or the alternative Basque anchu 'dried fish'. Today most often known as the salmon, from Old French salmun meaning 'leaper', still referred to as the lox in North America from Proto-Indo-European lax via Yiddish laks and meaning simply 'fish'.
The guppy, the most common occupant of tropical aquaria, was unknown in Europe until a Trinidadian clergyman brought a dried specimen to the British Museum in 1866. In 1925 the fish was named after the Rev R.J.L.Guppy.
The coelacanth is one of the oldest species known and yet it has one of the most recent names. It was named when thought of as extinct, discovered as a fossil and named from Proto-Indo-European kel akantha and describing 'the hollow spine'. These were the extended fin rays which the fish uses as legs, although this is not the species which first walked from the sea to the land as once claimed.
A dory is a name given to a flat-bottomed boat of Central America, itself named from the fish with a very broad base to its body. The fish gets its name from de aurare 'to gild' and a reference to its colouring. The gudgeon comes from Old French gojan, meaning 'small fish' and also the beginnings of the small strips of food in modern culinary parlance known as 'goujons'.
Halibut said to be from hali butte 'the holy flatfish' as it was eaten on holy days. Mackerel is thought to be from Old French maquerel, also used as a 'pimp, procurer' and probably some unknown reference to its reproductive habits - medieval folk had some quite eccentric ideas of animal reproduction.
Some names have been explained through some highly suspect and creative etymology. Examples incliude the dogfish, said to be named for hunting in packs. Sardines were said to have been named by the Greeks as they obtained their supplies from Sardinia. A squid is claimed to be a variant of 'squirt' for its defensive squirting of ink when endangered. The poor tench is said to be derived from Old English stenc or 'stench', and indeed the fish does have a rather unpleasant aroma.
The name of the clam can be traced back to Old High German klamm 'cramp, constriction' and thus describing what the clam is most famous for, closing tightly, although ironically the name of the bivalve is now used to describe such a state. Similarly today puny individuals are known as shrimps, while the name comes from a Germanic skrimpe quite literally 'thin cattle'.
From Greek konkhylion and meaning 'the little shellfish' comes the name of the cockle. Crabs can be traced through Old Norse krabbi 'crab', to Low German krabben 'to scratch or claw', to the Proto-Indo-European base of gerbh 'the scratch or carve', clearly named for its most distinctive feature, the claw. The crayfish, brought to English from the Old French crevice and having the suffix mistakenly pronounced as 'fish', can be traced through a Germanic word alsmot certainly with identical origins to the crab. Similarly the cuttlefish has never been described as a 'fish' until quite recently.
The name comes through Middle Low German kudel for 'container, pocket'. With a name meaning 'little mouse' , the mussel was seen as resembling the tiny rodent in both size and shape. Few will fail to see the octopus being named for being 'eight footed'. That the oyster has been a valued food source since mankind's days as a hunter gatherer is attested by the huge numbers of shells found with evidence of being opened with a stone tool. The name can be traced back to Proto-Indo-European ost meaning 'bone', later seen as Greek ostrakon or 'hard shell'.
The winkle is a shortened form of periwinkle, itself a description of its spiral shell in Latin peri 'thoroughly' and vincire 'bind, fetter'. Similarly the whelk's spiral shell comes from Proto-Germanic weluka, itself from Proto-Indo-European wel 'to turn, revolve'.
Of course shellfish are not exactly 'fish' in any sense, yet cannot be omitted. Noname is stranger than the barnacle, which was used for the species of goose well before the invertebrate. However the name of the goose is derived from Breton, a Celtic language of northern France, bernik which meant simply 'shellfish'. This linked the two as popular folklore of the day stated how the bird, which winters in Europe but breeds north of the Arctic Circle in the short summer, produced these eggs which were clearly related to the goose because of the feathery stalks being so similar to goose down. Hence it was thought that barnacle geese hatched from the barnacle shell.