Monday, 29 March 2010


A funny sort of word elision and, well, I think I’m using it correctly. The place names of the Estuary seem to attract it starting with Exter. Then there are Topsam and Limson. A seventeenth century token actually has Limson stamped upon it and the nineteenth century penny token commentator writes that the residents of the place still use the form. Exmouth is predictably Exmuff and Starcross seem unassailable but Cockwood next door is the most curious of all.

The Wart, the future King Arthur, and Kay, the future Sir Kay, were in the woods when they met with Little John. “ ‘Oh!’ cried the Wart in delight. ‘I have heard of you, often , when they tell Saxon stories in the evening, of you and Robin Hood’

‘Not Hood,’ said Little John reprovingly. ‘That bain’t the way to name ‘un, measter, not in the ’ood.’”

Robin’s name, Little John goes on to tell the boys, should be Robin Wood…

“‘Aye Robin ’ood. What else should un be, seeing as he rules ’em. They’m free pleaces the ‘oods, and fine pleaces’….”

It all seems a bit contrived but this suppression of the ‘W’ is recorded as common in Kentspeak. T. H. White, the author of The Once and Future King, was possibly just having his fun but it looks to me like he must have heard or read about ’ood’ being a form of ‘wood’. But was it known here in the West? There are parallels. For example‘will’ becomes ‘ull’ as in ‘us ull see.’ and there are other marvellously suppressed or at least transposed first letters in Devonspeak like ‘urd’ for ‘red’ and ‘urdgment’ for regiment. Did anyone round here ever talk about ‘the ’oods’? It sounds a bit unlikely.

All of which brings us back to Cockwood, the village on the west bank of the Estuary, which, by ancient tradition, is to be pronounced, and sometimes written, ‘Cockood’. This suppression of the ‘W’ must have been a matter of a local usage but where are the other examples of it?

The harbour at Cockwood is called ‘the Sod,’ perhaps only because where now is harbour there once was marshland. The Cockwood marshes are also called ‘sod’. It is not easy getting in and out of Cockwood harbour under the twin Brunel railway arches. It’s not too bad in my little boat where you simply unstep the mast, but if you have to mess about with stays or shrouds it’s a bit of a sod.

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