How old is English?


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More etymologies of mystery names


Bononia, called today Bologna, Italy, was the place where the Boii rulers concentrated the surplus of wheat of the rich province. It is known that Bologna in Italy was founded by the Germanic speaking, though culturally Celtic, Boii tribe. They came from Bohemia. The old word booy means (farm)house in Germanic. Bohemia means 'home-land'.

Bononia or Boulogne-sur-Mer in France. Boulogne-sur-Mer used to be the main Roman port if one wanted to cross the English Channel. The port was evidently a bunkering place too. A larger granary was obviously no luxury. This Bononia is the very same name as Bononia in Italy, today's Bologna.

Kempen (Belgium - called Campine in English): When sailors on the Meuse river travelled south, they saw on starboard side (to the west) the 'teeth' (camben) of a plateau which later would be known as Kempens plateau. By contrast, the landscape on board side (east) is flat. This hill ridge, varying in height between 20m and 102m, was a clear landmark and would give its name to the whole region beyond it.
In 1055 AD, a monk mentioned in Latin a piece of land, which belonged to the monastery and was situated in Campina (literally: little field). Here the word Campen was clearly Latinized. Usually, one refers to this first Campina mention for the etymology, "it comes from the word Campina", which is the other way around. The main problem here is that
(a) campina is not a genuine Latin word because it cannot be found in Latin texts contemporary to the Roman era. It sounds so Latin though. Campina is a backformation.
(b) the sandy region is at least 1600 km2 in surface, thus not so little the field.

Camborico (presumably an oblique case of Camboritum in bad handwriting) is often confidently described as Celtic for ‘curved ford’. It lay just inland from the Saxon Shore in Suffolk, where the Icknield Way crosses the river Lark, near modern Lackford and West Stowe. Also mentioned by AI is Combretovium, further south, near modern Baylham, which can also be interpreted as Celtic for ‘curved ford’ or maybe ‘confluences’. We opt for the possibility cambe+ ric, 'ruled region near (a) hill'.

In the past, –ritum has been considered always Celtic and always meaning ‘ford’, but the true picture is more complex. Rhyd place names are common in Wales, while dozen of names in France (Lacroix, 2005), such as Chambord, Chambors, and Chamboret, are thought to have once contained Gaulish *riton. However, there are lots of confusable words (represented in English by ride, Ryde, road, route, rheum, sprite, etc) and among the 14 or so ancient names that contain spellings like ritu, mentioned by Ptolemy and others, are places in Greece, Bulgaria, and Germany. Just looking at recognised cognates such as Latin portus, English ford, and Norse fjord (but not Welsh ffrwd ‘stream’) indicates that a more general meaning of ‘passage’ must sometimes be considered.

We must also take in consideration that the language border in Gaul at the early Bronze Age was situated to the south of the Seine river! It was during the Early Bronze Age that place-names became real place-names, that is names given as place descriptions which would not change regardless. A place called Sevenoaks had initially something like seven oaks and even if that number was no longer correct, the name stuck. So place-names can be some 4000 years old and most are at least 2000 years old. Recently was found that a stunning number of place-names in Normandy are of Germanic stock. Most of Normandy is located south of the Seine. To the south of Normandy was a tribe called Cenomani. Cenomani cannot be explained in Brythonic (Gaulish) but is easy in Germanic: the keen men, meaning the brave men. That is, for how far we know, how much to the south the Germanic language stretched in Gaul. Places such as Chambord could therefore have a Germanic etymology too: Cambe + board, two genuine Germanic words : at the edge of the hill.
Camboritum’s other element, *cambo-, presents a problem. All over Europe it is described as Celtic for ‘crooked, curved’. However, the common landscape feature of at least 70 places in south-central France with names like Cambon or Chambon is actually ‘fertile alluvial farmland beside a river’. This is generally considered to be a sense development from a Gaulish original that meant ‘land in a river bend’ (Lacroix, 2005), but the change may have taken place in Vulgar Latin under the influence of campus ‘field’ and the analogous element in Germanic languages developed similarly.

A Germanic translation of Camboritum would be ‘comb stream’, from PG *kambaz ‘comb’ and *riþaz ‘stream’. Modern Combs, not far away in Suffolk, probably comes from OE camb ‘comb’ (Gelling & Cole, 2003). Comb is a common element in northern place names, meaning a ridge a bit like a cock’s comb, but what might that mean in East Anglia? The word has been adopted by geologists, as kaim or kame, to mean an elongated mound of gravel deposited by melting glaciers, which can impose a wiggly course upon a river. Norfolk has a famous example of such a glacial feature, the Blakeney Esker, left by the last Ice Age. Glacial deposits further south in Suffolk were left by the Ice Age before that.

Near Camboglanna fort on Hadrian’s Wall: “Extensive accumulations of sands and gravels, formed in part by glacial meltwaters, form highly distinctive hummocky country” (UNESCO, 2008). Similar comments about glacial deposits can be read for Morecambe (in Lancashire, Ptolemy’s Μορικαμβε), Kempten (in Bavaria, Strabo’s Cambodunum), possible locations of AI’s Cambodunum (in Yorkshire), Cambus (in Scotland), and De Kempen (in Belgium).

What is clear is that comb and camb are the same word, just like lond and land are two versions of the same. (See London: etymology)

River names : Wear, Weser, Isère, etc.

Etymologies of the rivers Weser, Werra, Wiesaz (Germany), Wear (UK), Vistula (Poland), Vésère, La Vis, Vesouze, Vesonze, Visance, Vère, Besançon (France), Viesinta (Lithuania), Vesder (Belgium), Bisenzio (Toscany, Italy), Visa (Norway).
We can add Isère, Oise (France), Ister (Isar - Austria) and Yzer (Belgium). Here, the leading 'w' has disappeared. They all meaning 'flowing' from PIE *u̯eis- "to flow". What they are not is diagnostically Celtic. The word is pan-European. The list above is probably not complete.