Saturday, 9 May 2020


John Muir, "Father of the National Parks"
My ears pricked up – as they often do when exposed to (often unwitting) crimes against etymology – when I was listening to Radio 3 just now. Thy were playing a repeat of a 2017 broadcast based on an almost-real-time walk along Offa's Dyke. The commentary didn't quite assert that the word "saunter" derived  from pilgrims to the Holy Land (la Sainte Terre, geddit?)

But it did assert something in that area – that la Sainte Terre was among the many disputed suggested etymologies of "saunter"; and I don't feel it was sufficiently deprecatory of this particular bunch of hooey.

Etymonline provides a link to thoughts on this topic, which is a good read. They take the history of supposed etymologies of saunter from Dr Johnson (a believer in this bit of hokum), via other believers, including Henry David Thoreau...
(who wrote "I have often traveled in Concorde". "Travelling in Concorde" had an amusing secondary meaning in 1979, when I was working on the ODQ [details here]. Oh how we larfed.)
...and John Muir (in a conversation recounted in The Mountain Trail and its Message by its author Albert Wentworth Palmer).
It's a strangely appropriate coincidence that the etymology of the name Palmer is not in doubt:
"pilgrim; itinerant monk going from shrine to shrine under a perpetual vow of poverty;" originally "pilgrim who has returned from the Holy Land," c. 1300, palmere (mid-12c. as a surname), from Anglo-French palmer (Old French palmier), from Medieval Latin palmarius, from Latin palma "palm tree" (see palm (n.2)). So called because they wore palm branches in commemoration of the journey. "

I liked this summary of the Muir/Palmer quote:
I'm willing to allow the gist of the quip to be true, and that Muir really did say something like that on some occasion. Perhaps Palmer had the sort of memory attributed to Coleridge that could recall a casual conversation completely.

But that doesn't mean the etymology is correct.
This often happens  in discussions of etymology; a quotation is cited as a knock-down argument, but  the seeker of truth gets up again and shrugs off the standing count of 8. I mentioned an example with reference to Kemp's Nine Days Wonder, here.

Returning to that Offa's Dyke program, my ears pricked up again at mention of Cader Idris. Like Arthur's Seat (a similar landmark, though not the same size), a Cader is something you sit on – a big chair (the Castilian cadera means "hip" but the Catalan cadira means "chair"; I discussed these two, and how they relate to cathedrals and ex cathedra pronouncements [made with that authority that comes from sitting in a big chair], here.)
Other body parts used to name land forms (e.g. the Paps of Jura) come to mind, and other metaphors for land forms (like "canyon", from cannon) will have to wait.
That's all (for today) folks.


Update:2020.05.10.12:40 – Deleted this working note, which once served to remind me where I was going:

Also Cader Idris, cf Arthur's Seat and see cathedra stuff.

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