Torpenhow Hill

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Torpenhow Hill is an alleged hill in Cumbria whose claim to fame is that its name is supposed to be a quadruple tautology, though it is better described as a triple tautology. While there is a village called Torpenhow, the supposed "Torpenhow Hill" is a ghost word,[1] used as an extreme example of the (real) tendency of tautological placename etymologies (of the type River Avon "river river", Laacher See "lake lake", etc.)

Tor, pen, and how were said to all mean "hill" in different languages (torr and penn from British, how(e) from Old Norse haugr), so that a literal translation of "Torpenhow Hill" would be "Hill-hill-hill Hill", in an extreme example of a multilingual tautological placename.[2] It was used as a convenient example for the nature of loanword adoption by Thomas Comber in c. 1880.[3] The idea apparently goes back to Denton (1688)[page needed][4] who noted that Torpenhow Hall and church (54°44′49″N 3°14′10″W / 54.747°N 3.236°W / 54.747; -3.236), which presumably formed the nucleus of the settlement, stand on a 'rising topped hill', which he assumed might have been the source of the name of the village.[5] The current village of Torpenhow is on the side of a hill rather than at the top.

Modern etymological reference works interpret the name of Torpenhow indeed as derived from the three elements mentioned, but tor+penn is not interpreted as a tautology, but rather as expressing the idea of "top or breast of a hill", to which howe was added in a (single) tautology.[6]

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  1. ^ Francis, Darryl (2003). "The Debunking of Torpenhow Hill". Word Ways. 36 (1): 6–8.
  2. ^ Fenton, G. L. (12 July 1884). "Torpenhow". Notes and Queries. 6th Series. 10 (237): 25–26.
  3. ^ "the name thus meaning in reality hill-hill-hill-hill. Fortunately the Normans let it remain, and we are spared from having to call the place 'Torpenhow hill-mount'." Th. Comber, "The Origin of the English Names of Plants", The Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society, Volume 15 (1904), p. 616.
  4. ^ Thomas Denton: A Perambulation of Cumberland, 1687-8, including descriptions of Westmorland, the Isle of Man and Ireland. Denton apparently exaggerated the example to a "Torpenhow Hill", which would quadruple the "hill" element, but the existence of a toponym "Torpenhow Hill" is not substantiated. Francis, Darryl (2003). "The Debunking of Torpenhow Hill". Word Ways. 36 (1): 6–8.
  5. ^ English Place Name Society, 1950, The Place-names of Cumberland, p. 326
  6. ^ The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Placenames (4th ed. 1960). David Mills, 2011, A Dictionary of British Place-Names "Ridge of the hill with a rocky peak".