"Word" words?

Mark Mandel thnidu at GMAIL.COM
Sat Apr 26 01:30:29 UTC 2008

On Fri, Apr 25, 2008 at 12:42 PM, Dan Goodman <dsgood at iphouse.com> wrote:
> Guy Letourneau wrote:
>  > Any comments? Is there a katana sword, an ushanka hat, or borscht soup?
>  Not quite the same thing, but there's our old friend Torpenhow Hill.

Which may be also "not quite". Here's an excerpt (all I've been able
to find on line without paying) from the beginning of "The debunking
of Torpenhow Hill" by Darryl Francis, in _Word Ways_ of Feb. 2003
(found at http://goliath.ecnext.com/coms2/gi_0199-2516082/The-debunking-of-Torpenhow-Hill.html#abstract):


In his second book, Beyond Language (1967), Dmitri Borgmann posed a
problem and offered a solution that have both gone unremarked until
now, over 35 years later. For those who don't have the book, here is
part of Problem 35. Etymological Eccentricities:

Find a word or name that exhibits a pure, quadruple redundancy,
consisting of four elements identical in meaning.

The resolution provided by Borgmann runs as follows:

In The Story of English, Mario Pei mentions a ridge near Plymouth,
England, called TORPENHOW HILL. This name consists of the Saxon TOR,
the Celtic PEN, the Scandinavian HAUGR (later transposed into HOW),
and the Middle English HILL, all four of them meaning "hill". Hence,
the modern name of the ridge is actually "Hillhillhill Hill"!

The Catalyst

On a recent holiday in the English county of Cumbria (part of which
used to be called Cumberland), I noticed the name Torpenhow on a road
sign. As I was 400 miles from Plymouth (which is in the English county
of Devon), I wondered if this was another Torpenhow, different from
the one mentioned in Dmitri's book. I detoured through the small but
unremarkable village of Torpenhow. No sign of any local feature that
could conceivably be Torpenhow Hill.

On returning home, I started to do some checking on the Internet and
in my local library. I concluded that there was no such place or
geographical feature as Torpenhow Hill, and that this is a fiction
that has been repeated and re-repeated many times...


Mark Mandel

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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