Friday, 19 October 2012

This Vale of Tears

The Blether Region was very taken by a billboard advertisement for Strathvale pork — whose name, according to an industry website, may constitute something of a confidence trick:

"[...] Lidl has its Strathvale brand, which is clearly intended to sound Scottish but is, yes you've guessed it, "Product of EU"."

Those who know Gaelic or are interested in place-names may have had their doubts anyway: since srath is the Goidelic word for "valley", "Strathvale" would have to mean something like "vale vale". Yet it is far from alone in being what the Germans pithily refer to as doppelt gemoppelt (in the South of Ireland the brand is apparently named "Inisvale").

There is a cluster of businesses whose names include the element "Strathvale" around Forfar in Angus. Similary tautologous is Strathdale in Victoria, Australia — yet that too is apparently named after a real area between St. Johnstone and Atholl.

While the worst instances seem to originate from overseas, there is no doubt that such linguistically barbarous names, whether arrived at through folk etymology or hybridisation, also occur in Scotland and Ireland.

County Cavan has the River Owenroe (Abhainn Rua, or 'Red River'), Cork the River Owenabue (Abhainn Bhuí, or 'Yellow River'), and Fermanagh the Owenbrean River (Abhainn Bhréan, or 'Stinking River').

And perhaps the most egregious example of all occurs within the Gaelic-speaking world itself: Rubha Robhanais, which combines the Gaelic word rubha, meaning 'headland' — twice over — with the Norse word nes (also meaning 'headland'). English-speakers will know it better as the Butt of Lewis.

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