Yorkshire Chess History



Origin of Word "Yorkshire"











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The county name “Yorkshire” is obviously made up of two elements, the name of the county town of York, and the “-shire” suffix shared with numerous other counties.


The element “-shire” comes from the Old English (Anglo-Saxon) scir.  OE used the digraph “sc” to represent the “sh” sound, and the “i” was long, sounding as the “ee” in “sheet”, so scir was pronounced “sheer”.   The long “i” was in due course diphthongise to give the modern pronunciation of the non-compound “shire”.  Scir meant authority, so “Yorkshire” meant (the area of) the authority of York.


The origin of “York” is more convoluted.


The Romans knew York as Eboracum or Eburacum, with the stress believed to have been on the “a”.  This is believed to resolve itself into the primary element “Ebor”/”Ebur” and the Latin add-on “-ac-” plus the case ending “-um”.  The variations in spelling the second, unstressed syllable are of no significance.


The Romans tended to create names based on native names, so the element “Ebor”/”Ebur” is assumed to be Ancient British in origin.  As Celtic languages are a subset of the Italic group of Indo-European languages, it is hypothesised as having a case ending like Greek “-os”, or Latin “-us” which derived from an earlier “-os”.  By sticking such a case ending on the stem “Ebur-” we get the made-up Ancient British word *eburos.  (The asterisk denotes its a hypothetical word.)


There are two ideas as to the meaning of *eburos.  One idea is that it was a personal name, though the Romans rarely created place names from the names of human individuals.  Thus it was supposed that there was an Ancient Briton called Eburos.  There is no evidence for the existence of any person so named.  Nevertheless, there’s a statue of “Eburos” in York Minster!


Another idea is that York was built in the vicinity of yew trees, and that “ebur-” came from the Ancient British root for yew.  There’s no evidence that the Ancient Britons had a settlement where Eburacum was set up by the Romans, so a name based on a natural feature is more plausible, in principle, than the other idea, yet it is still pure speculation.  The nearest modern language to Ancient British is its main direct descendant, Welsh, in which yew is called efur, so the idea seems plausible.


When the Angles arrived, they would have no knowledge of any underlying etymological meaning.  Knocking the Latin case ending off Eboracum leaves Eborac-, and the Angles may have tried to read into this root a possible etymology from their own language.  .  In Anglian eofor meant boar (wild pig) and wic meant village.  For this, or some other reason, the Angles came to render the Latin root Eborac- as Eoforwic and various variants of it.  They would easily recognise this as “Boar Village” in their own language, “Pigton” if you prefer.


It was then the turn of the Vikings to see what they could make of the name.  For them the “wic” obviously meant bay, which is where you park your ships.  They had arrived by coming up the river system, and then had parked their boats in Eoforwic, so “obviously” this was “Eofor Bay”.  The Vikings seem not to have read any meaning into Eofor, so that element of the name was fair game for being made easier to pronounce, and in due course the Vikings simplified Eoforwic to Iorvik (with consonantal “I”) and finally Iork.  Using “J” for the consonantal “I” gives us “Jorvik”, the form now popular in York, as in the “Jorvik Centre” tourist attraction.


When the Anglo-Saxon speakers regained control of Eboracum, they adopted the existing Viking name, which we now spell “York”.





Copyright © 2012 Stephen John Mann

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