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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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Monday, February 22, 2021

British Place Names

 

Lower Slaughter

Following my post about Sutton Hoo, many of you wrote in to share your favourite British place names, so I thought I would do some etymological research for  you. 

First up, the impossibly picturesque Upper Slaughter and Lower Slaughter (pictured above) in the Cotswolds, near Cheltenham in Gloucestershire. 

Lest you think the lovely little river was the scene of some gory battle, the explanation is much more banal. "Slaughter" in this case comes from an Old English form *slōhtre ‘muddy place’ or ‘ravine, deep channel’, probably related to our word "slough".. Not dripping with blood. 

Not far away in Oxfordshire is Chipping Norton, originally Old English cēping ‘market’ Norton 'north of' (the opposite of "sutton").

Near Salisbury in Hampshire one finds the Wallops: Nether Wallop, Over Wallop, and Middle Wallop.  This possibly comes from  Old English wella, wælla  ‘valley with a spring or stream’. OE + hop 'small enclosed valley'. Alternatively the first element may be Old English weall ‘a wall’ or walu ‘a ridge, an embankment’. This is not to be confused with our common verb "wallop" which has its own interesting story. See here: https://katherinebarber.blogspot.com/2010/11/word-of-week-wallop.html

Moving a little further southwest to Dorset, we come across Piddletrenthide on the River Piddle. This is not alas from nursery talk; in Old English pidele meant simply ‘a marsh or fen’ and the town meant 'Estate on the River Piddle assessed at thirty hides’.

In  Yorkshire someone found the lachrymose-sounding Blubberhouses. This is in fact much cheerier, coming from Middle Engllsh  bluber bubble + Old English hūs: ‘(Place at) the houses by the bubbling spring’.

Sheepy Magna & Sheepy Parva Leicestershire. 

This one actually does have something to do with sheep: ‘Island, or dry ground in marsh, where sheep graze’. Distinguishing affixes are Latin magna ‘great’ and parva ‘little’.

Helions Bumpstead , Essex. 

"Bumpstead"  meant ‘Place where reeds grow’, from Old English bune reeds + stede enclosed pasture. Tihel de Helion was the name of a man who held one manor in 1086.

One reader was entertained to learn that a neighbourhood of York is known as "The Shambles". You can find the explanation here: 

https://katherinebarber.blogspot.com/2015/05/in-shambles.html

I hope I haven't been boring you but perhaps it is appropriate to leave  you in Norfolk with Great and Little Snoring (settlement  of the family of a man called Snear). 

Photo of Lower Slaughter by Ivy Barn on Unsplash

2 comments:

  1. English place names are an endless source of amusement. Have you seen Douglas Adams' book "The Meaning of Liff"? He provides hilarious definitions for dozens of place names in Great Britain.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The Chiltern Hills, not far Northwest from London, have many names that amuse children, all ending with -bottom. These are clearly valley floor villages so the origin is obvious. However, when I lived in Pednor Bottom, Bucks, I rfefused to write those words on my address. Too embarrassing!

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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.