Wednesday 20 March 2013

villages possessed

Writing about apostrophes in place names led me to realize that I haven’t ever discussed in my blog the question of the spelling of placenames in Montserrat, the West Indian island my partner comes from, which we visit every year.

Many of the former sugar estates or cotton plantations on the island were named after their (former) owners, and many of the villages are named in turn after the estate or plantation where they are located. So a centuries-dead owner called Brade is perpetuated in the village of Brades; the village in which I stayed on my first visit to the island, Tuitt’s, keeps alive the name of the Tuitt who once owned the nearby estate.

Etymologically, then, these are possessives, and accordingly they are sometimes (though inconsistently) written with an apostrophe. See, on the first map, Brades but Trant’s and Tuitt’s.

There is the usual problem in cases where the former estate owner’s name ends in a sibilant. Near Bethel, just to the south of the dotted red line marking the limits of the exclusion zone (access forbidden because of continuing danger from the volcano), you will see a village labelled Harris. However this village, sadly destroyed in the volcanic disaster of 1997, is/was known as ˈhærɪsɪz (well, ˈharɪsɪz). I feel inclined, therefore, to spell it Harris’s. The local school teachers, anxious to be correct, tended to write Harris’. But as you can see, the map makers wrote Harris, apostrophe-free, and this is/was the predominant spelling.

Here’s another map. Again, we have Harris, but also Harris’ Lookout. More interestingly, this map shows another village, labelled Farm. But everyone calls/called it faːmz.

A recent government report reported on plans for geothermal drilling “between Weekes village and Garibaldi Hill”. I can tell you that the name of the village is pronounced ˈwiːksɪz.

There’s another village, one still unaffected by the volcano, called frɪts (actually, Upper and Lower). How is it spelt? Either Friths or simply Frith. (Bear in mind that in Caribbean English you tend to get t for standard θ, so frɪθs simplifies to frɪts.)


  1. So... In mainstream British pronunciation, should that be frɪts or frɪθs? Perhaps the former, considering that there are names spelt with ‹th› that are pronounced with a t: ˈæntəni and ˈtɒməs, for example.

  2. Oh, now you've edited the post so it's frɪθs.

    1. Yes, Frith frɪθ is quite a frequent surname.

  3.  Wikipedia now hosts an updated version of the first map that shows the new airport and on which the old airport is x’ed out. (Or should I write: xed out? exed out?) You can find it here.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. The OED gives x-ed out, though they also give a 1969 quotation with X'd-out words. (Presumably in that quotation, using it as an attributive adjective calls for the hyphen before out, and X-ed-out would have looked clumsy.)

    4.  I know. And M-W also gives x’d and xed, but not x’ed which I used in my comment.
       OED also has ex as a verb whereas M-W doesn’t. It’s a real mess, ain’t it?

  4. I bett Harris' Lookout is possessed not by Harris but by the village and must be pronounced ˈhærɪsɪzɪz

    1. One explanation for Harris is a patronymic based on Harry - so that means two apostrophes: harry's's

    2. Lewis Carroll might have written it that way. So, combined with Dolf's idea, that would be Harri's'' ˈharɪsɪzɪz. I only hope there are no communal cutting tools there.

    3.  Lipman wrote:
      Harri's'' ˈharɪsɪzɪz. I only hope there are no communal cutting tools there.


  5. Also the Bronx should really be Bronck's (or perhaps the Broncks', depending on one's preferred etymological explanation).

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