Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Happis, Hayes, Whatever


My favorite librarian and I often read to each other -- mostly she to me: I talk for a living, but do not read out loud as well as she does -- and currently we are enjoying a new book by Bill Bryson, who is rapidly becoming one of our favorite authors. See Pam's reviews of other Bryson works on her Liberry Books blog.

This book -- The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of An American in Britain -- is so rich with geographic gems that it is one of two Bryson books that I will be assigning in my senior seminar in geography in the spring. I cannot possibly include all of his geographic insights on my blog, but after reading the following paragraph, Pam suggested I blog about it. And of course she was correct, for reasons that will become apparent.
In the morning I woke to watery sunshine, and after breakfast in the Burlington's large but empty dining room drove twenty miles down the coast to Happisburgh, a remote and lonely but good-looking village roughly halfway between Sheringham and Great Yarmouth. Happisburgh is dominated by a tall, lovely lighthouse with three red stripes. A sign in the neighboring parking lot informed me that this was "the only independently run lighthouse in the Uk." Now I am very sorry, but how can you possibly pass a lifetime in a country and not know how to abbreviate it? Why did you bother going to school at all? Why did your teachers turn up in the morning? Apart from this minor outburst of illiteracy, Happisburgh seemed to be an entirely agreeable place. It is pronounced, incidentally, hays-burro, or even just hays-brrrrrr. Norfolk specializes in odd pronunciations. Hautbois is hobbiss, Wymondham is windum, Costessey is cozzy, Postwick is pozzik. People often ask why that is. I'm not sure, but I think it is just something that happens when you sleep with close relatives [sic].
Sic in this case letting readers know that this blog does not traffic in humor of this low variety, but Bryson did it, so I am leaving it here for readers to judge for themselves.

More important, though, is the geographic question: where are all these places?

This phenomenon is very familiar to residents of Massachusetts, who are used to some fairly odd pronunciations.

I was introduced to the special nature of Massachusetts town names early in my tenure here, when I told students that a field trip would include a rest stop in LEO-minster -- the first town mentioned in the video above. Fortunately, I was well-versed by the time I made a visit to Leominster High School a couple of weeks ago.


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