When the Anglo-Saxons gallivanted into what is now known as the Kingdom of England, they brought with them the rudiments of modern-day English. Somehow, although no one really knows how, the majority of natives located centrally adopted the language of the incomers. Despite this auspicious start, in contemporary times, English people have a global reputation for being dire at learning languages unless, of course, it's swear words or beer. Which makes me wonder: whatever the invaders did to help us overcome our xenoglossophobia, we should probably embrace as a pedagogy today but I suspect whatever they did then would now result in a long prison sentence.
The other reason, which I realise may be offensive, is that Old English was probably a lot more simple than the Celtic language, our original mother-tongue. For example, when I studied Welsh, a fabulously melodic but very phonetic prose, I was told that the word ‘tomato’ can be pronounced, and thus spelt, ‘tomato, domato, dhomato, nomato, nhomato or thomato’. I fear there’s probably even more mutations than that - and that’s for just a simple noun. Imagine a whole string of tomatoes: “I went to the shop and I bought some ripe tomatoes, some squishy domatoes, a few green nhomatoes”…I’d never go to the jeffing greengrocer’s again. When I was informed of the Welsh need to merge phonemes to sound better, I felt a strange sense of relief that, by virtue of being born just across the border in the Lost Lands, Welsh is for me an additional language.
Anyway, back to history: subsequent invasions of these fair isles, England especially, (Scotland, Wales and Cornwall barely) combined with our appropriation of others’ tongues (usually where we enforced a presence) means that only a quarter or so of modern English would be decipherable should an Anglo-Saxon ghost come for a haunting.
Therefore, it is just a tad unfortunate that the Anglo-Saxons as a collective were not known for their wild imagination. Towns, or tons, which can also be dons or tuns or duns depending on one’s geographical accent, were often named by their relation to another ton. Hence, we have so many Nortons - North Towns; Suttons - South Towns, and Middletons. If it was a particularly long town, it might, just might, end up being ellided to London. If there was a bridge, it’d be affixed with a ‘Brig’, a road made for ‘Rad’ and if it was a farm, it’d be a ‘stock’. Woodstock, for example, could well be a farm specialising in the cultivation of trees; something Britain used to be smothered in. Or perhaps ‘Stockwood’ was just a forest minding its own business until some shady developers annexed it. Sometimes, though, farms were called ‘Hams’, or ‘Steads’. Or ‘farmfarms’ in the case of Hamstead: “Aye, it’s not just a farm, it’s a farm farm!” as if all the other farms were actually just fields being tilled for tax-dodging enterprises.
Sometimes an entire area was full of hams, which could also mean meadow, like Hampshire. Once London became overpopulated, I assume through over-breeding, people were compelled to move somewhere cheaper, and nothing proved cheaper than Ye Olde Field.
Then the Romans came and latinised everything, making things terribly multi-syllabled and fortified. Following their exit stage right, Uncle Norman bumbled in and caused all sorts of havoc. That carnage only ceased when the Scandinavians, speaking Old Norse, froze him out of the picture. They left their mark by re-suffixing our ‘tons’ into ‘bys’ and ‘thorpes’. Mixed with Geordie, it’s easy to hear how the Scandis became the Scuns, making Scunthorpe a particularly popular holiday destination for our Viking cousins.
Anyway, having arrived in the Kingdom of the West Side of Sex, and headed down to the Kingdom of the South Side of Sex, I’m left pondering who exactly is to blame for this Fulking mess: