Der Economist mal wieder mit einem wunderbaren Nachruf – diesmal auf Margaret Gelling, einer Expertin für englische Ortsnamen.

“At Wivenhoe, in Essex, the low line of the hills has the shape of the heels of a person lying face-down. The name contains the shape: a hoh is a ridge that rises to a point and has a concave end. At Wooller in Northumberland, however, the hilltop is level, with a convex sloping shoulder. The hidden word here is ofer, “a flat-topped ridge”. Early Anglo-Saxon settlers in England, observing, walking and working the landscape, defined its ups and downs with a subtlety largely missing from modern, motorised English. Dozens of words, none of them synonymous, described the look of a hill, the angle of slope and the way trees grew upon it. And after the Anglo-Saxons, no one looked at the landscape in quite that way until Margaret Gelling. (…)

Mrs Gelling worked for the English Place-Name Society, formally and informally, from 1946. From 1986 to 1998 she was its president. She never held an academic post, but lectured widely, wrote a dozen books and produced three of the county surveys of place names. She was devoted to the proposition that names drawn from the landscape were not trivial or accidental, but original and important. (…)

No subtlety escaped her. The suffix fyrhth was not simply wood, but “scrubland at the edge of the forest”. The word wæss was not just swamp, but – she was particularly proud of this – “land by a meandering river which floods and drains quickly”. She had observed this herself at Buildwas, on the winding Severn in Shropshire, where between Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon the flooding river drained from the land “as if a plug had been pulled out”. A feld was not necessarily ground broken for arable, but any open country in the almost all-covering fifth-century forest. And an ærn was not merely a house, but a place where something was stored in bulk and worked on: so that Brewerne, in Cambridgeshire, acquired a smell of beer, and Colerne, in Wiltshire, a dusting of charcoal.”

In diesem Zusammenhang nochmal mein Buchtipp für ganz lange Winterabende: The Book of Obituaries.

(Und ein Hinweis in eigener Sache: Ich bin gestern im Duden darüber gestolpert, dass man fremdsprachige Zitate auch in den fremdsprachigen Anführungszeichen setzt. Also ab heute keine untenstehenden Anführungszeichen mehr bei englischen Zitaten.)