July 21, 2017
(In which I investigate the etymology of place names generated by a neural net. Pt 1 here.)
Let’s talk bodies of water.
-mer, -mere, -mar, -mare
In British place names this can refer to lakes (Windermere), or the sea (Weston-super-mare) though not exclusively, a mere can also be a boundary as in Mersey or Marple (as a kid I could never work out why the 4 mile run around my town was know as the Mere when there wasn’t a lake for miles). Note: I’m going be a bit interchangeable about which one I use, if these were on a map it would probably be clearer which one it meant. Let’s see what we’ve got.
Mare-unby, this could work. -by is a fairly common ending meaning farm or settlement. Un is a bit trickier, it doesn’t crop up a huge amount in British place names as far as I know. The best I can find is Unsworth near Manchester which comes from a personal name (Hunds became Uns). Or it could be ‘un’ as in to oppose. So this could be the Lake by Un’s Farm, or maybe the Settlement opposite the Lake.
Mareby Cole. It’s our friend -by again, so Mareby could be the farm or settlement by the lake, sea or boundary. Cole could mean a lot of things but before we get into them I like that the net has generated this name extension. Settlement by the sea is so generic that the town would need a qualifier to distinguish it from the other towns by the sea. Back to Cole:
- The River Cole, not far from me, comes from a word for Hazel, so this could be The Lake Town by the Hazel Trees.
- Col is a Norman French word for hill so we could be talking – on the Hill
- The least plausible (but my favourite!) comes from the Irish word cúil which means corner or nook, I like to picture the town nestling in a little bend in the coastline, but the mash up of Anglo-Saxon and Gaelic is probably a bit iffy.
- It could be a personal name appended to the original town name when a family took ownership of the land (this fits the convention of Norman lords appending their names to town names e.g. Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Layer de la Haye, but Cole isn’t a particularly French name AFAIK; it’s German if anything)
- Or it could literally come from coal, perhaps it’s a port that moved a lot of charcoal
Mareland is fairly clean (and no doubt famous for it’s quality kitchenware). Marenton could’ve once been Marine-town, or Ocean Town. Mares End, I like as an island or coast town: Sea’s End. Or it could be a farm at the top of a lake. Maresfoot on the other hand would be at the bottom of the lake (again, not in a Lancelot du Lac way).
Marcomb introduces another generic form in -comb. This is equivalent to Welsh cwm and means valley so Marcomb is Lake-Valley. Marcott is Sea Cottage.
Mar Hemby St Andentharo. Now we’re talking. We know what Mar is, what about Hemby. The Hem could be equivalent to -ham (a beast we’ll tackle in full another day) which means settlement, or homestead, so Hemby could be Home Farm. So we have Home Farm by the Lake, St Andentharo. Who is St Andentharo? What language do we even start in? I think the best I can do is a South American saint I just invented named after a lighthouse atop an agricultural terrace (Anden-faro? Apologies to everyone who speaks Spanish), no doubt the patron saint of pre-Colombian soil aeration and flotsam.
Buttfield Marthor *chuckles*. Buttfield is actually a perfectly valid place name, a butt can be a strip of arable land that’s not quite a furlong, a plot of land that abuts another, or could refer to archery butts so Buttfield would be a little field or maybe archery field. As for Marthor, aside from being Thor’s mum’s name, this could be a contraction of Marthorp which refers to a secondary town, so this would be the Lake Town with or by the Small Field.
Boy howdy there are a lot of place names! Next up we might look at moors and marshes.
July 20, 2017
Dan Hon trained a neural net to generate British place names, there are some predictably funny results (oh hai Fuckley), but if you look at the long list you get everything from incomprehensible nonsense to actual place names. Between those two extremes you have a range of names of varying plausibility so let’s look at some and work out what they would mean.
Dan generated around 4500 names so we’ll be here for a while if we take them one by one, but there are ways we can segment the data, the simplest is to look for common place name components, e.g. -ton, -cester, bridge, hill, -comb(e), llan, punctuation. These are common in actual place names so we’d expect them to occur here, and we know what they mean which is, you know, what I’m trying to figure out.
(Pt 2 here)
Ok. I’m expecting a lot of these. Yep, 748, around 15% of our sample. Err… we’ll come back to this.
-cester, -caster, -chester
This is more like it. Aside: derivations of ceastre/ceaster crop up a fair bit in British place names, often in larger towns as it comes from the Roman castrum meaning fort. And many places the Romans built forts we still have towns and cities (Manchester, Doncaster, Casterly Rock etc).
Buncestergans. At first glance this doesn’t look a lot like a place name but let’s break it down. We’ve got Bun which is definitely from Ireland (see Bunratty, Bunclody, Bundoran) meaning bottom of the river, and I believe we’re talking bottom as in the mouth rather than the riverbed (or there are whole lot of magical lady-of-the-lake towns in Ireland, I’m happy believing either). Cester is our Roman fort, then we have -gans.
I don’t think gans has any meaning in British place names. My guess is the net got this from Irish surnames like Fagans, Hagans, Duggans, that sort of thing. My Gaelic’s not so great (my mother, grandmother, and several aunts and uncles would all be better suited to this question!) but I think the -gan ending in Gaelic is a diminuitive, so Buncestergans could be the Small Fort at the Bottom of the River. I quite like that. It’s a weird Gaelic-Latin hybrid but why the hell not!
Elsewhere in ceastre territory we have Tancaster and Casterstone which are both perfectly good. Casterstone is strong: the ‘Fort of Stone’.
Kesterfield gets an honourable mention for being almost Chesterfield (check out the twisted spire!).
I like to think Nether Curster could be a derivation of Caster. The Lower Fort. That works for me.
Skousester could be Liverpool (though I’m pretty sure the nearest Roman fort to Liverpool was Chester, and Scouse postdates the Romans by some amount of time).
Then we have Oasasterhill. This is a funny looking beast. How would it be pronounced? I’d like to think it’s something like Oh-ster-hill or O-er-ster-hill (-cester is usually pronounced ‘ster’, for example Bicester is Bister, Towcester is Toaster, Gloucester is Glossed her etc.). Maybe it’s ‘The Town over the Fort Hill’? Bit tenuous methinks. (Aside: to my knowledge -sester and -saster don’t occur in any British place names as equivalents to -cester but for the purposes of this exercise it seems to make the most sense.)
This is fun.
Will we unlock the secrets of all 4573 place names? Find out in our next instalment!
But realistically, no. Can you even imagine how long that would take? And one of these names is Warks ifffrydddig Villags, which I’m pretty sure is just trying to troll Welsh speakers, grammarians, and anyone who’s seen the word village. Another’s just the word Ba. Ba. So, er, yeah. Not all of them – but a bunch!
July 14, 2017
Witch’s-friend, claws clutching
cold flesh. No more golden
balls to fetch or falls for
fair maidens this jade-prince.
Her mirror, still, murmurs;
mouse-bane in dreams, house-tame
she lies. A lap-lion,
loathe to win her dinner.
Edit: I made a change to lines 3 and 4 after Dr Jackson Crawford pointed out I had ‘for’ as a stress syllable in line 4.
June 16, 2017
I absolutely adore this:
This second set is the real Arcimboldo stuff:
I want actual books of this. If someone tells me where to throw my money to make this happen I will throw my money there.
May 7, 2017
Taught my first actual, full, Vibe Cycle class today! Figured I should keep a record of my playlists:
- You Got the Love – 2017 Remode | Dr Shiver, Candi Staton
- Good Luck (feat. Lisa Kekaula) | Basement Jaxx
- Faithless | DC Breaks, Bianca
- A Deeper Love (Sam Halabi Radio Remix) | Aretha Franklin
- The Chain | Fleetwood Mac
- Through The Night (Radio Edit) | Drumsound and Bassline Smith
- Party Goin | Mightyfools
- Believer | Imagine Dragons
- Roll on my Level | DJ Hazard, Summer Rayne
- Into the Night – Nero 1988 Remix | NERO, 1988
- Twistin’ the Night Away | Sam Cooke
- Cooldown Keep it Loose, Keep it Tight | Amos Lee