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. 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]

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]

See also[edit]


  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 (Sixth 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 apprarently 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".