Sunday, 26 January 2014

Surrey Place Names

With the upcoming publication of my Surrey Place Names, a quick preview of the entry for Chessington.

The great survey of Domesday records this name as Cisendone in 1086. Here a Saxon personal name and Old English dun tells of 'the hill of a man called Cissa'.

Castle Hill represents an ancient earthwork encampment; Rushet Farm is 'the place of rushes'; World's End is a common humorous name found for the extremity of the parish; and Burnt Stubbs show the land was cleared by burning. Barwell Court can be traced to at least the thirteenth century, this from bere wella and describing ‘the spring near where barley is grown’. Note bere was also used a generic term for grains in general as well as for barley. Malden Rushett, once known as Lower Rushet, adds ‘the hill with a cross’ to ‘the place of the rushes’. Park Farm is a reminder of what was once known as Chessington Park. Telegraph Hill is a reminder of the signalling station situated here at the end of the eighteenth century, part of the communication network established to bring news to the nation. At the North Star public house we find the name of a very famous locomotive. Here we see the locomotive built by George Stephenson for the Great Western Railway. Archibald Menzies named the Monkey Puzzle, albeit indirectly. In 1796 he brought a sample of the Chilean Pine to England and was heard to comment how the spiky, twisted branches of the tree would prove a puzzle for a monkey to solve, and the nickname stuck.

First appearing in the sixteenth century, the Blackamoor’s Head is a variation on Black Boy. This reference is to the young black boys employed as personal servants from the eighteenth century who accompanied their employers to frequent the coffee houses and taverns of the day. These poor fellows were forced to wear brightly-coloured striped outfits, earning them the nickname of ‘tigers’.

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 January 2014

Global Belly Laugh Day

Last time I examined some of the more unusual choices of days to raise awareness for a number of causes – ranging from the worthwhile to the decidedly weird. Amongst those which caught my eye was 24th January, which will mark Global Belly Laugh Day. The idea is simple enough, laughter being the one thing which crosses all boundaries irrespective of creed, culture, race, language, gender, inside leg measurement, et al.

Yet is this actually true? The oft-quoted “Two nations divided by a common language” remarks on the minor differences between American English that spoken in the UK. The same is true of American humor, which is certainly different from British humour and yet the language is still ostensibly English. It got me wondering if humour really does translate. Will a German joke translate to French? Will the Spanish ROFL at a whimsical Welshman? As an experiment I dug out a few jokes in various languages and reproduce them here for your enjoyment (or more likely not).

French: Mother to her daughter: If you are wise, you will go to heaven, and if you are not wise, you will go to hell. The girl responded with “And what do I have to do to go to the circus?”

Spanish: My computer always beats me at chess, but I always win at boxing.

German: Teacher to pupil: “For such impertinence you will write out ‘I am a lazy person’ one hundred times and have it signed by your father.”

While those three could be recognised as humour, thereafter it starts to get a little surreal.

Italian: You cannot call your mother …. You do not have a modem!

Chinese: A little sea turtle was swimming in the middle of the ocean, when he bumped into something floating on the surface. The sea turtle had never seen anything like it, so he asked "What are you?" The thing replied, "I am a dragon", then floated away. One hundred years passed by, and the small sea turtle had grown into a great big sea turtle. He was floating on the surface, and once again he came across his old friend, who he hadn’t seen in one hundred years. He was amazed that, although he himself had changed greatly over the course of a hundred years, the dragon had hardly changed at all. The sea turtle had always believed that he was the longest-living creature on earth, but here was something that lived even longer. He asked, "What kind of dragon are you, that you don’t change and don’t become old and feeble?" "Oh! I am Styrofoam."

The Mandarin Chinese narrative does not work because the same word can be used, depending on the context, for Styrofoam, dragon and a couple of other things. The same would be true about some British comedy, such as the old routine about the different pronunciations for words ending in ‘-ough’ where ‘bough’ is pronounced ‘buff’, ‘cough’ becomes ‘cow’, and so on.

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 January 2014

Lice, Cucumbers, Sex and Ninjas.

A new year, well new-ish, and this week I discovered the 27th January will be marked in the USA by Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day, the purpose of which is not to protect valuable fragile items but to pop the bubbles to your heart’s content. (No, neither do I.) This did make me wonder what delightful National Awareness Days we in the United Kingdom have to look forward to. The following have been noted in my diary.

January 14th is STIQ Day – when we are to ask ourselves if we are acting responsibly when it comes to sexually transmitted infections. While I understand the IQ added to STI, perhaps an acronym standing for Sexually Transmitted Intelligence Quotient is likely to be misunderstood.

January 31st is National Bug Busting Day. It seems this day, to be repeated on June 15th and October 31st, will see all-out war against head lice when ‘all will be found and zapped in one fell swoop’. I can’t stop scratching my head when typing it, hence I shall be ignoring it completely at the end of the month.

February 14th is National Think About Sex Day. Apparently men do so 13 times each day in comparison to 5 times a day for women. I’m assuming the idea on Valentine’s Day is to get one of the 13 to correspond with one of the 5?

March 28th is National Skipping Day. This is the skipping with the rope and to encourage those who are presumed too young to participate in the February event to see how exercise can also be fun. My first thought was of the ‘skipping down the street’ once seen in many children’s stories – something I have not seen for decades.

April 5th is International Pillow Fight Day. The whole point of this really escapes me, the only point to catch my attention was the warning not to swing the pillow too hard as it might hurt. So why do it?

May 12th is National Cucumber Day and celebrated by CueFest. It might make more sense if it was later in the year when people could have grown their own.

May 18th is Random Huggers Day and whilst I’m not averse to a hug from time to time, it must be remembered I am British and there is nothing random about hugging.

May 25th is Towel Day and at last an event that makes perfect sense. I shall, of course, be carrying my towel and hoping I am rewarded by a lift.

June 1st is Butterfly Education and Awareness Day. Clearly it is easier to absorb information while still young and thus in a class full of very mature students results are never going to be too thrilling.

July 11th is World Population Day, which I think might involve some sort of ritual cull.

August 13th is Left Handers Day and only included because I was relieved to find it had nothing to do with the events of February 14th and May 18th.

September 19th is International Talk like a Pirate Day, which should be renamed Robert Newton’s Only Claim to Fame Day.

October 5th is National Badger Day, which would have troubled our ancestors as the word ‘badger’ was once solely used for those trying to sell something. Perhaps I should be expecting even more calls about PPI and Personal Injury than normal.

November 30th is Buy Nothing Day, which I actually learned from as it appears there are people out there who spend money on purchases every single day of their lives.

December 5th is the Day of the Ninja. Encouraging people to wear a ninja mask to work seems an odd idea anywhere, but especially so for those who install CCTV cameras.

Incidentally the USA have a wondrous day on Tuesday 14th, no help is required for National Dress Your Pet Up Day (American aquarists might want to post pictures).

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, 5 January 2014

Health and Safety

Recently I was asked to look at the sillier side of the world of Health and Safety. My research turned up a number of ludicrous narratives and among them these three gems.

Marathon The modern Olympics cover a myriad of sports but for many the athletics competition remains the defining image. Of all the track and field events surely the 26 miles and 385 yards of the marathon epitomises the Olympic idea. First run to commemorate 490BC when the Greek soldier Pheidippides brought news of the victory at the Battle of Marathon over the Persians to Athens. Having run all the way and announcing "Joy, we win!", he collapsed and died. This set the distance for the modern event which, for many years, was run only at the very biggest athletics events and at a mere handful of the biggest cities in the world. Today there are some five hundred marathons run annually, with many more at half the distance. For many of us a marathon, or even a half marathon, is several miles further than we envisage walking, never mind running. Yet for those who do the main target is to beat their personal best time. Individual records were certainly on the cards in Cardiff in October 2008 when conditions for the race were ideal. Yet when a veteran of 70 half marathons across the globe discovered he had beaten his own record by almost a minute he suspected something was amiss. Soon other runners crossed the finishing line and, equipped with personal GPS systems, discovered they were still around 350 yards short of completing the race despite having crossed the finishing line. By the end of the day organisers had discovered the problem lay with newly-erected scaffolding. Not that the inanimate metal framework could be held responsible. Correctly this was the health and safety inspectors who, having examined the route for the annual Cardiff event, discovered a building had had scaffolding erected partially blocking the route. Taking the number of runners into consideration this was deemed unsafe and an alternative route laid out. It is a pity Pheidippides was not available for comment.

Channels of Bureaucracy Colchester is renowned as an old Roman town but in June of 2010 it hit the headlines for a very different reason. As with all towns the length and breadth of the country, the local council are always keen to cut costs and to ensure as much household waste as possible is recycled. Large items would be taken away on payment of a collection fee of eleven pounds. It was such an item which brought Colchester notoriety when a lady of 85 years, having paid the required fee, claimed she was 'outraged' when an official told her they could not collect her television from her house. It seems health and safety regulations restricted the council officials to collections from the kerb outside the house, insurance did not cover them in the home of the poor woman. When she telephoned the council to ask how she could dispose of the unwanted television set she was told it was her responsibility to get the set to the kerb. When news broke she found neighbours from near and far rallied to her aid and the set was quickly removed from the kerb.

Completely Nuts For some the glorious colours of autumn are the high spot of nature's calendar. In churches around the country collections of fruits and vegetables represent the bounty gathered from the fields as churchgoers celebrate the Harvest Festival. Not only are there edible fruits available at this time of year, this is also the traditional season for the dispersal of seeds by the local flora. Among the best known are the conkers from the horse chestnut once eagerly sought by schoolboys, that was until playgrounds were cleared of this mortal peril by health and safety. While the oak tree produces countless numbers of acorns, sought by squirrels and eaten by herds of swine in traditional woodlands. At Brentwood in Essex, acorns were proving more of a nuisance than a bounty as a sign was erected outside the community hospital in 2010 warning PLEASE BE AWARE OF FALLING ACORNS. This was not a warning from Henny Penny that "The sky is falling!" but a result of health and safety officers discovering an increase in turned ankles and similar injuries almost exactly twelve moths previously. Unlike the acorns feasted upon by the swine, these were not falling on the greensward beneath the woodland canopy but on the concrete paths and steps outside the hospital. Here they were to prove troublesome beneath the feet of unsuspecting pedestrians and thus when the acorns began to fall the following autumn the warning notice was put up without delay.

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.