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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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Sunday, February 14, 2021

Sutton What? Sutton Where? Sutton Hoo?


Many of you have been watching The Dig, the movie starring Ralph Fiennes and  Carey Mulligan on Netflix about the Anglo-Saxon archeological discoveries in Sutton Hoo, Suffolk (the southern part of the bulgy bit on the eastern side of England). 

You are probably thinking, "Yet another bizarre British place name!", although it cannot compete with my family's favourite when we were growing up not far from there: Six Mile Bottom.

OK, you can stop giggling now and let us apply ourselves to the place name in question. 

"Hoo" has nothing to do with  our pronoun "who". In very old Anglo-Saxon, hōh was the word for "heel". "hōh" gradually morphed into "heel" and by 1300 was not being used any more. But it survived in some place names, because hōh also meant "a projecting ridge of land shaped like a heel".

"Sutton" was a very common place name, meaning "south farmstead or village", i.e. one to the south of another settlement, 
 
Do you have any favourite "weird British Place Names"?

5 comments:

  1. fascinating as usual! thank you Katherine.

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  2. Yes, Nether Wallop (also in England)!

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  3. Westward Ho! is an actual place in Devon and is named for the Charles Kingsley novel. Supposedly, it's the only spot in the UK with an intentional exclamation mark.

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  4. My surname, which I took on one I got married, ends in "-enden". One day when I was in a mad rash organizing birth certificates and passports so we could travel somewhere south (remember when we wanted to do that?) I had a telephone conversation with a marvelous public servant who told me that it is a Kentish name.

    Must admit that Canadian place names can be equally odd. North Dildo comes to mind.

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  5. Also Middle Musquodoboit in Nova Scotia.

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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.