Sunday, April 08, 2007

Windermere or what's in a name?

This photograph of Windermere dates from March 2002. A version is posted on my Out & About website.

I had labelled it: Lake Windermere: View towards Helvellyn. A few days ago I had an email pointing out that the word Lake in the title is redundant. This body of water is simply Winder-mere. Mere is just another term for a lake.

I agree and have re-labelled the photograph.

In a follow-up email, however, my correspondent added
I think that 'the media' is largely responsible for the misuse, and also for its acceptance among the general public, few of whom care much about the language anyway.
Regardless of the reason for it happening, or for its acceptance, the fact remains that it betrays a lack of understanding of the english language ... sad then that so many perpetrators actually make their living from use of that language.

I thought I'd do a bit of investigation and the name Lake Windermere does seem to crop up on the websites of various local businesses and others whom you might have thought would have known better.

Even Windermere Lake Cruises on whose boat we sailed, uses the term at one stage.

One site that avoids the pitfall and has some stunning pictures is the Visit Cumbria site.

Windermere, the town, was originally known as Birthwaite, but when the railway arrived in 1847, the station was named Windermere and the town developed quickly around the station, with hotels, boarding houses and shops eventually spreading down the hill to merge with Bowness.

One might well question why the National Park was called the Lake District when there is only one lake (Bassenthwaite Lake) while the rest are meres, tarns or waters.

The Wikipedia List of tautological place-names not only includes Lake Windermere but also Wastwater, being a combination of the Old Norse "vatn" and the Old English "wæter", meaning waterwater.


  1. Ciao Gerald, thank you for the visit and for the comment.

  2. This is very interesting information. You must be very busy with two blogs!

  3. I think the objection is a trifle fussy - Windermere is now "generally" accepted as a single placename - not as two words Winder and Mere (Winder in fact probably has a particular original derivation as well). Language changes and evolves as do the meaning of words and the usage thereof.

    I won't go into the variety of tautological examples you can find north of the border, but they bother me much less than the indiscriminate use of "'s".

  4. I particularly liked your mention of Wastwater, Wasdale having originally been settled by Norse immigrants ... even the Church is St Olaf's.
    Reading it brought to mind a couple of my own favourites, one from Wensleydale and one from Cumbria.

    Before moving here, I lived in a village called West Burton, and immediately opposite my house was a 2000ft hill, called Penhill ... but Pen is merely a colloquial term meaning 'hill', so Penhill is Hill Hill.

    My alltime favourite, though, is back here in Cumbria. Perhaps you've heard of the village of Torpenhow, near which is Torpenhow hill?
    Tor is another colloquial term for hill, much used in the south-west, but also elsewhere.
    Pen as before.
    How(e)is generally a manmade mound, sometimes referred to as a tumulus, and often being the site of a stone-age burial. Perhaps not large enough to be regarded as a hill, but certainly approximating to one in profile.
    So, Torpenhow Hill is Hill Hill Hill Hill.

    I have no idea how these oddities actually came about, but would assume they are possibly the result of mapmakers with little knowledge of local colloquialisms.
    You point at a hill and ask a local 'what is that called' and get the reply ' ah, that's t'pen' ... which makes its way onto the finished map as Pen

    Isn't the English language wonderful?

  5. this make me want to dig out a copy of Swallows and Amanzons!

  6. Hey, dont feel bad about getting the name wrong.
    In British Columbia, there is a lake and on my Map, it is named Windermere Lake, also, there is a community here named, Lake Windermere.

  7. An honest man seems not to get my point. Regardless of the fact that Windermere is accepted as a placename, that placename is itself descriptive, and as such, the prefacing of the word with 'Lake' is unnecessary.

  8. "My alltime favourite, though, is back here in Cumbria. Perhaps you've heard of the village of Torpenhow, near which is Torpenhow hill"

    There is a Torpenhow, but no "Torpenhow Hill".

    Torpenhow doesn't even mean "Hillhillhill". Google for "the debunking of Torpenhow Hill" for more details.

  9. Interesting comment - there is indeed a Torpenhow in Cumbria but no hill.