Sunday 29 November 2015

Cameroon and its Place Names

Having blogged samples of my books on English place names and also examined the etymologies of the nations of the world and their respective capitals I thought it time to cast my net a little wider. This time Cameroon and a look at some of its largest settlements and most interesting names and starting with the capital.

Yaounde is not the largest city, that title goes to Douala. Founded as Jeundo by German explorers in the 1880s, the German botanist August Zenker recorded the name as Jaunde, itself a German spelling of the name of the local Yaunde people who took their name from their agrarian lifestyle with the name translating as simply 'groundnut'.

Douala is first recorded under Portuguese rule, then known as Rio dos Camarons. From 1884 this was under the Germans and then Kamerunstadt or 'Cameroon city', until becoming Douala in 1907 and coming from the native peoples of Dua ala Ijaws.

Mokolo is dominated by two different peoples: the Mafa or Matakam people, whose name means 'well-dressed'; and the Fulani or Fulbe.

Ngaoundere is named after the nearby mountain, itself meaning 'the navel mountain'.

Note the spellings of the places are English as the piece is written in English.

Sunday 22 November 2015

Cambodia and its Place Names

Having blogged samples of my books on English place names and also examined the etymologies of the nations of the world and their respective capitals I thought it time to cast my net a little wider. This time Cambodia and a look at some of its largest settlements and most interesting names and starting with the capital. Incidentally, those books initially only published as ebooks are now available from the print on demand service at Feed A Read

Phnom Penh literally translates as Penh's hill', taking its name frpm Wat Phnom or 'the hill temple'. Folklore speaks of the year 1372 and a koki tree floating down the Tonle Sap river. A wealthy woman, the money left to her by her late husband, spotted this tree and inside found four bronze statues of Buddha and a single statue to Vishnu in stone. She ordered the villagers to use the wood from the koki tree to build a templee housing the four Buddhas on the summit, with a shrine for the image of Vishnu just below on the slope. Penh's Hill is not immediately apparent, being just 90 feet high. Yet this is not the city's official name but should correctly be Krong Chaktomuk Mongkoi Sakal Kampuchea Thipadei Sereythor Inhabot Roth Reach Seima Maha Nokor. Named King Ponhea Yat and meaning 'the place of four rivers that gives the happiness and success of Khmer Kingdom, the highest leader as well as impregnable city of the God Indra of the great kingdom', this is usually abbreviated as Krong Chaktomok or 'the city of four faces'.

Battambang is another name to derive from legendary sources. Here the name means 'loss of staff' and comes from the tale of Preah Bat Dambang Kranhoung, where a farmer became king - Preah Bat Dambang Kranhoung means 'king of Kranhoung stick'. Said stick was carried by the farmer when he fought alongside Khmer soldiers to liberate this Siam-occupied territory. It was because of his heroic actions he was nominated as king but soon found himself deposed by a younger man. He threw the now sacred black stick at the usurper but its powers were no more and the farmer lost both the stick and his throne.

Siem Reap has similar beginnings to Battambang. Here the name translates as 'Siam defeated', itself likely suggested by the earlier name under Siamese rule when Siemmarat meant 'Siam's territory'.

Sihanoukville is the westernised version of a city officially known as Krong Preah Sihanouk or 'city of the holy Sihanouk'.. King Norodom Sihanouk reigned 1941-1955 and 1993-2004, hailed as father of modern Cambodia and whose name is derived from Sanskrit siha hanu 'lion jaws'.

Prey Veng literally translates as 'long forest', although the trees had disappeared by the 1980s, cleared to provide more land for agriculture.

Kampong Cham can be split into two distinct parts. Kampong speaks of its location and means 'at the side of the water', while Cham refers to the collection of independent regions found along this coastline from at least the 7th century right up to 1832.

Krong Ta Khmau translates as 'black grandfather'.

Pursat is named after a kind of tree found locally, the name also found for both the region and the river draining this area.

Kampong Speu is literally 'the port of the starfruit', a tree found in this region. Note while speu is the Khmer word for 'starfruit', the area is know for its sugar and wine production.

Takeo translates as 'crystal grandfather' and is a name applied to both a city and a province.

Note the spellings of the places are English as the piece is written in English.

Sunday 15 November 2015

Etymologies and Homonyms (again)

Whilst I am always interested in learning new words, it is the never so much the meaning as the origins which intrigue me. A couple of years ago I looked at homonyms, a word with two meanings and I looked at the etymologies of these words. Were there two completely different origins and the identical spelling is pure coincidence or has the word simply been used to mean two different things?

Here are another selection and, having done ABC before, now continue with a selection of others:

Dear can be used as a noun to mean ''beloved' and as a verb to mean 'expensive'. In both cases this is from the Old English deore and if defined as 'precious' can also be used in both senses.

Deck can be used to mean 'adorn' and also to refer to a part of a ship. Both are derived from Middle Dutch dekken meaning 'to cover' and, once again, appropriate to both senses. Note the use referring to a pack of cards is first seen in the late 16th century, thought to liken the stacked cards as the decks of a ship. Later use as a tape deck, coined around 1949, describes the flat surface required to ensure smooth passage of the recording tape from one reel to another.

Down is also used to describe soft feathers as well as the opposite of up. These have to quite different origins, albeit from similar words. Old English dun meant 'hill', still seen in the similar modern word 'dune', today only used to refer to sand features. We also find Old Scandinavian dunn referring to 'soft feathers', this derived from Proto-Indo-European dheu which referred to 'to fly (like dust)' or 'rising cloud'.

Duck is found in its earliest form as a verb. Germanic languages feature intermediate forms - Old High German tuhhan, German tauchen, Old Frisian duka, Middle Dutch duken, and Dutch duiken - are come from Proto-Germanic dukjan or 'to plunge or dive'. As a noun it is easy to see how dabbling is why the waterfowl earned this name. Furthermore because the females greatly outnumber the males, this is why the females are known generically as 'ducks' while males are specifically 'drakes'. The use of 'duck' as a noun is a late addition to Old English, Saxons used the term ened from Proto-Indo-European aneti.

Even can be used to mean 'alike' as well as 'equal'. The latter is from Old English efnan with the former from the similar efen. Both undoubtedly have the same root, although when the two meanings first came about has never been identified and by the same token we have no idea which use came first.

Exact is most often used as an adjective meaning 'precise'. This is from the Latin exactus, with the same meaning, itself the past participle of exigere which means 'demand, enforce' and is also how the word 'exact' is used as a verb. In English the 'demand' meaning is much older than the more common modern use of 'precise'.

Fawn is most often used to refer to the young of the deer and, as with the previous example, is of later origin than the verb. The young deer came to English from Old French feon which originally meant 'young animal' rather than specifically 'young deer', indeed the former was in popular use until at least the 15th century in England, too. This ultimately shares an origin with 'foetus', the Latin fetus meaning 'bringing forth' as well as 'offspring'. When it comes to the verb meaning 'grovel', this began as Old English faegnian or 'rejoice, applaud'. Later Middle English used 'fawn' as an expression of great pleasure and delight, in particular we find it used most often in reference to a dog wagging its tail.

File can be used to refer to the tool or the act of using said tool to smooth or abrade, particularly in metalwork. In this sense Old English feol comes from Proto-Germanic fihalo 'cutting tool' and Proto-Indo-European peig 'to mark by cutting, an incision'. Interestingly a couple of Eastern European languages have also evolved this root to mean 'paint', presumably both are linked in the sense of the piece being improved upon by work done on it. Talking about a file in the office sense (computer terminology simply borrowing this usage), has a strange etymology indeed. First seen in the early 16th century, this is from the Old French file meaning 'a row' and still used in English in this sense. The link from 'a row' to 'documentation' is through the original filing being done by stringing the documents on a cord or wire. This is reason we so often hear administrative excuses telling us something is either 'on file' or, more often, 'not on file'.

Fine has three uses: as an adjective meaning 'pure, refined'; to describe something as 'delicate'; and as a verb meaning 'penalise'. The first example is from Old French fin 'perfected', itself sharing a root with 'finish' and the French word finis. In Modern French the word continues to be used in the second sense of 'delicate', and came to English in a general sense around 1300 when used to express approval, this is why we use expressions such as 'fine figure' and 'fine arts'. When it comes to third meaning, this is also Old French where fin was used to mean 'limit, death, boundary' as well as in the sense 'fee, payment, finance, money', the different uses probably beginning as when a debt became due, ie the period of credit had come to an end.

Fire could well be one of the earliest words ever spoken, or at least one of the earliest ever described. Clearly that original sense referred to flame and, while we will never know what language was first spoken, we do know a reasonable amount of Proto-Indo-European, the root of most European and related languages. This ancient tongue appears to have to quite different roots for 'fire': this seen in paewr which should be seen as 'inanimate' and probably best seen as the chemical process and thus the process of burning; and also from egni, the origin of 'ignite' and used in the sense of 'animate', ie the living flame. Fascinatingly the latter 'animated' use is also seen in viewing water as a 'living force' both etymologically as well as elementally. When used to mean use of a gun, this undoubtedly refers to the flame associated with early musketry and although we use 'fire' with archery today, this is a modern term and Saxon archers would have said 'shoot'. The ejection of the projectile in guns, muskets and canon is undoubtedly the reason for using fire to mean 'dismissal', this not seen before 1885.

Flat has three uses today. The earliest, and most obvious, came to English from Proto-Germanic flata which meant 'shallow' as well as 'flat'. It is worth noting that while today we would see 'flat' as meaning 'having no significant rises', the original sense was 'having no significant dips'. The use of 'flat' to refer to a property on a single storey began some two centuries ago in Scotland and originally described (quite sensibly) what we would today see as a bungalow. It is derived from a source meaning 'ground, floor' and ultimately used to refer to 'level ground near water'. In a musical sense it is first seen in the late 16th century, this originally being used to mean 'dull, featureless, lacking contrast' - we still speak of 'featureless' when looking across a flat landscape. Around the same time, indeed within ten years either side, we find 'flat' used in the context of 'unexciting' and also in reference to drink being flat.

Fold is used as a noun to refer to an enclosure for animals, this from a Germanic root and brought to England by the Saxons with falud. While evolution of the word is uncertain, it is interesting to note the Dutch vaalt and East Frisian folt have the same origins but have come to mean 'dunghill'. As a verb the history is much clearer. Distributed across the northern hemisphere and seen in Albanian pale, Greek ploos, Latin plus, and Sanskrit putah, while also evolving in some languages to mean 'a joint'.

Sunday 8 November 2015

Burkina Faso and its Place Names

Having blogged samples of my books on English place names and also examined the etymologies of the nations of the world and their respective capitals I thought it time to cast my net a little wider. This time Burkina Faso and a look at some of its largest settlements and most interesting names and starting with the capital.

Ouagadougou is not only the capital but, albeit predicably, the largest city. The modern form of the name is a French version of the original, from the 15th century, when Ninsi tribes in the area were forever battling for supremity until, in 1441, victory by the Yonyonse tribe under Wubri. He renamed Kumbee-Tenga as Wage sabre soba koumbem tenga or 'the village of the head war chief'.

Bobo-Dioulasso could almost be considered of artificial origins, certainly this is not of much help in understanding the name as it simply represents the name coined by French colonists to mean 'home of the Bobo-Dioula'.

Ouahigouya was founded in 1757 as the capital of the Yatenga Kingdom, this reflected in its name meaning 'come and prostrate yourselves' - a most unusual invitation and one where I can think of at least a dozen reasons for politely declining.

Fada N'gourma is another Burkina Faso place name with a most unusual and uninspiring meaning. Here the name is from the Hausa tongue and refers to 'the place where one pays the tax'.

Tenkodogo is traditionally held to have been founded by Ouedraogo, son of the Ghanaian princess Yennenga, and named from tenga kodogo with the simplistic meaning of 'the old land'.

Note the spellings of the places are English as the piece is written in English.

Wednesday 4 November 2015

Yes it's me on your Television

Follow the link to this CrowdFunding site, as I do my bit to raise money for a venue for our local Literary Festival. Speaks for itself although worthwhile just pointing out this chap is on Countdown being broadcast November 4th 2015.

Any authors, publishers, poets, editors, et al out there who would like to come to Tamworth and take part in any of our future events just drop us a line, we are always glad to hear from you.

Thank you for your time and your help!

Sunday 1 November 2015

Bulgaria and its Place Names

Having blogged samples of my books on English place names and also examined the etymologies of the nations of the world and their respective capitals I thought it time to cast my net a little wider. This time Bulgaria and a look at some of its largest settlements and most interesting names and starting with the capital city.

Sofia had always been known as Serdi, a Thracian tribe who may have had Celtic origins. Under Roman rule this became Ulpia Serdica, again we see the earlier name but here with the addition of the emperor Marcus Ulpia Traianus - ulpia a deriviative of the Latin for 'wolf'. The modern name comes from Saint Sofia Church and ultimately from the Egyptian Kemetic word for 'star, door, teaching, wisdom' depending upon its context.

Plovdiv has also been known by many names throughout its history. The earliest a Thracian settlement named Eumolpias and named after the mythological figure held to be the son of Poseidon. When Philip II of Macedon conquered the city he renamed it Philippoupolis. Under Roman rule it became Trimontium or 'three hills'. The modern name is from the Slavic version of the Greek name, recorded as Poldin, Plopdiv and Ploudin.

Varna was first recorded in the 6th century, a name likely of Varangian origin. A tribe of northwestern European origin, this may be related to Swedish varn 'shield' or, if older, from Proto-Indo-European we-r 'water'.

Burgas shares an origin with the many 'burgs' across the European nations. Here the name is probably from Latin burgos 'tower', this supported by the Greek name of Pyrgos with the same meaning.

Ruse is traditionally held to be the founder of the city, a woman named Rusa whose name meant 'blond hair'. More likely this comes from the fortification founded here in the 14th century, this either from the root ru 'river' and describing its location or rous meaning 'red' and referring to the colour of its stone.

Stara Zagora is from the Slavic star meaning 'old' preceding the place name of Zagore, itself from the same tongue and meaning 'beyond the mountains'.

Pleven has two possible origins. Both are Slavic words: either this is plevnya 'barn' or plevel 'weed'.

Silven is also of Slavic origin and another name with a watery meaning, this being from silv 'pour' or more likely 'confluence'.

Dobrich is named after the 14th century Dobrotitsa, his name from the Slavic dobr meaning 'good'.

Shumen is unrecorded prior to 1153 when it appears as Simeonis. This is from the Bulgarian shuma and refers to the 'deciduous forest'.

Pernik is held to be a reminder of the Slavic god of thunder and lightning, one Perun. Alternatively this may recall a member of the local nobility by the name of Perin, he known as a boyar or 'of noble men'.

Haskovo is often said to be from the Arabic has meaning 'possession' and for obvious reasons. However there is also the Turkish has meaning 'clean', both equally plausible.

Pazardzhik is a combination of the Persian bazar 'market' and Turkic cik 'small'.

Blagoevgrad is a modern name, it from the Slavic grad 'city' and one Dimitar Blagoev, founder of the Bulgarian Socialist Party whose name translates as 'gentle, kind'.

Veliko Tarnovo is traditionally said to come from the Old Bulgarian for 'thorny' with the suffix grad or 'city'. The prefix is Bulgarian for 'great' and adopted in 1965 to show the city's former status as the nation's capital.

Vratsa takes the name of the nearby Vratsa Pass, itself from the Slavic word vrata or 'gate' with the addition of itsa meaning 'little'. Note for the ancients a 'gate' was the gap allowing access, while today a 'gate' is seen as something which bars access.

Gabrovo legend states this was named by its founder, a blacksmith named Racho. Near his forge grew a hornbeam, the tree known as gabar in the Slavic tongue.

Note the spellings of the places are English as the piece is written in English.