Episode 74: Head Cities and Home Towns

The population of England grew significantly in the centuries following the Norman Conquest of England. That development led to the growth of villages, towns and cities. During that period, London also emerged as the capital of England. In this episode, we examine these developments and explore the etymology of words associated with Medieval English settlements.


19 thoughts on “Episode 74: Head Cities and Home Towns

  1. Champagne is of interest to me. In the land down under it is no longer expensive but it is no longer available in most bottle shops. The use of the name is restricted. But when we want to celebrate, we drink “bubbly” because our wineries are no longer permitted to market their wonderful product as Champagne. I have a brother-in-law who is a retired wine maker. At one time he was making champagne at a major winery. It is fermented in a bottle, but seldom in the bottle in which it is sold. After fermentation it is decanted, refined, and rebottled

    • Hi Laura,

      I have listed most of my major sources on the “Resources” page of the website. I don’t include specific sources for each episode. Most of my research is based on a few hundred books I have read and reduced to notes over the years. I have never considered the podcast to be a proper academic treatment of the subject matter, so I don’t keep diligent notes on individual sources. I may prepare a written version of the material at some point, and in that case, I would likely include footnoted sources in that publication.

  2. I find it interesting that speech in the East Midlands and East Anglia formed the basis of standard English. Many East Anglians also settled New England, and I’ll bet their way of speaking led to the New England dialect and, by extension, northern interior American speech—often considered the standard American dialect.

    • Yes, it is definitely true that regional British accents were imported to North America, and specific settlement patterns contributed to American regional accents. The lack of ‘r’ in New England accents is directly attributed to early settlement from eastern and southeastern England which also had ‘r’-less accents. (That feature was much more limited in the British English of the 1600s than it is today.) You might want to check out the episode I did for the “10 American Presidents Podcast” about Presidential speech which touches on this issue.

  3. Just a little note Kevin, you refer to London as being part of the Central and East Midlands area linguistically. I understand that this is to do with the Danelaw but to most English people this will seem very odd. Geographically London is definitely in the south of Britain and nowadays the accent has far more in common with the southeast than with the midlands.

    • I understand the potential confusion, but technically speaking, the Middle English dialect of London is considered to be part of the larger East Midland dialect region. To make the matter even more confusing, the East Midland dialect region does not correspond to the modern region commonly identified as the “East Midlands.” The dialect region was much broader.

    • Hi Chris,

      In case you or anyone else happens to see this: I spent 3 years near Ipswich, Suffolk, as a teenager on a US Air Force base. My recollection of the pronunciation was Ips-wich and Nor-ich, so both rhyming with “which” but with a silent “w” in Norwich.

      I thus agree with you that Kevin should drop the “w” in Norwich, but I do not recall the “porridge” pronunciation. I would not be surprised if my inattentive ear did not hear it, but would appreciate you or others commenting more on the pronunciation of Norwich.


      • I’ve spent most of my life in Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and London, and I’ve never heard it pronounced any other way than Norridge.

    • It does indeed. Lovely place. It’s my home town (city) though I now live in Plymouth.

      Great podcast Kevin. So glad I found it.

  4. I can’t help but note an interesting example with respect to the rule about -fs vs. -ves as the plural ending for a noun ending in “f.” As a Canadian and lifelong hockey fan I was shocked recently to hear a friend from Jamaica (where hockey is not exactly a common topic of conversation) refer to the “Toronto Maple Leaves.” This sounded hilarious and I offered that she cannot possibly say this to hockey fans in the future, at the risk of unkind ridicule. But I suppose that the reason it’s universally pronounced “Maple Leafs” is that the omnibus noun doesn’t really refer to leaves, but to a latter-day invention (hockey players/team) that postdates the change in the linguistic rule…

    • Yes, I think that’s correct. When used as a proper noun, the traditional rules sometimes change. So “The Maple Leafs spent the afternoon raking maple leaves.”

    • Steven Pinker addresses this in (I think) “Words and Rules” or “The langauge Instinct”, but it does not appear in the indexes(hah!).
      This web page (https://boards.straightdope.com/t/why-is-the-hockey-team-called-maple-leafs-not-maple-leaves/232579/8) summarizes it:-
      In this context, a Maple Leaf is not a leaf at all; it’s a type of
      person. So it loses its connection with the irregular word “leaf”.
      Another way to put it is that it’s the whole phrase “Maple Leaf” which carries the meaning; it is no longer the noun “leaf” modified by the adjective “maple”. And noun phrases cannot be irregular.

      I hope that this helps.

  5. I think you are wrong about the time at which city came to me just a large town rather than a city with a cathedral . All cities in Britain were cathedral towns up until about 1800. These include tiny cities such as Wells, Ely and St David’s . Many large towns are not Cities though some without cathedrals have been given City status more recently. In Britain it incorrect to talk about a going to the city or living in the city if the town in question is not an official city even if it has a population of half a million.

    • I think you are probably correct with regard to the use of the word ‘city’ in reference to municipalities in England. However, from the 1200s, English also used the word ‘city’ more broadly to refer to large towns in other parts of Europe and elsewhere. The OED also seems to make this distinction by including separate definitions for English towns and non-English towns.

  6. So interesting, as always! Could the PIE “kai” with it’s transition in protogermanic “hai” be a possible genesis of the Armenian “Hye,” which is a name they have for themselves? Could make some sense, given the definition of “loved ones, those you camp with”.

  7. On the spelling and pronunciation of roofs, you suggest it’s an old English word that’s lost its ‘ves’ sound. I find myself pronouncing it ‘ves’ with ease and ‘fs’ quite alien. It’s hard to say exactly where I get that from, having moved around the world a lot as a child but I was schooled in Hartfordshire, Buckinghamshire, and Wiltshire. I would suggest the ‘fs’ pronunciation more a result of ‘say it how it’s spelt (or spelled)’.

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