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This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Cantering to Canterbury

I am currently in the lovely cathedral town of Canterbury, where my choir is singing Evensong in these amazing surroundings for three days.

Naturally, my mind turns to the thought of... horses.

Throughout the Middle Ages, Canterbury was, famously, a site of pilgrimage to the shrine of Thomas Becket. The pilgrims rode along the way to the shrine at a sedate gallop, somewhat faster than a trot, but slower than a full gallop (for the fascinating history of the word "gallop", see this post.) 
 This came to be known as a "Canterbury pace" or "Canterbury trot", but by the 18th century had been shortened to the word we know now: canter.

Another linguistic debt we owe to Canterbury is the common name for a species of the flower Campanula: Canterbury bells, so-called in reference to the small bells pilgrims carried on their horses. 

The name "Canterbury" itself comes from the original Celtic name for the county of Kent and Anglo-Saxon elements meaning "stronghold or fortified town".

For an interesting discussion of "Westminster Abbey" (where we also sang), please click here.

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About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.