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Week thirty-two: THWAITE (probability 10419), by David Sutton

THWAITE is one of those words that now survive only on maps, in the form of elements in place names. It means a piece of reclaimed wasteland, and like many of our place name elements, especially in the north of England in the area once ruled by Danes under what was known as the DANELAW or DANELAGH, it derives from an Old Norse word, in this case thveit.

Another such word is GARTH, an enclosure, a garden, from Old Norse garthr. Then there is THORP or THORPE, a hamlet or village, TOFT, a homestead, and HOLM, an island in a river, or flat land beside a river. The Vikings had a word 'holmgang', literally a going to a holm, which referred to the custom of fighting duels on a small river island; two men would go to the island with axe or sword, and one come back.

Place name elements from Old English rather than Old Norse include HURST, a wood, COMBE or COOMB or COOMBE, a short deep valley, DENE or DEAN, a small valley, and BOURN or BOURNE, a stream.

Any Scrabble player who can spare half an hour from learning the solutions to RETAINS plus one (and let's face it, not many of us can) could do worse than browse through Eilert Ekwall's 'Concise Dictionary of English Place-names' in company with an Ordnance Survey map or two, and enjoy a treasure-trove of these linguistic fossils.

   













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