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Pronunciation of Scafell Pike

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1221239.  Sat Jan 14, 2017 3:22 pm Reply with quote

Even though this was not a part of a question, it's very surprising that QI does not know the correct pronunciation of England's tallest mountain. (Series N episode 12, at about 19 minutes.) The clue to the correct form is the spelling that was used almost universally until the publication of the Ordnance Survey map of the area in the 1860s. This was "Scawfell". You will find this used by William Wordsworth (who wrote what was, for a while, the definitive guidebook - he needed the money), John Dalton (a Cumbrian who became known as a famous chemist, but was really interested in meteorology, which involved climbing mountains to measure changes in temperature and relative humidity), the cartographer of the 1810 Inclosure Map for Wasdale (which would have been closely examined by local people), the land agent who prepared the Wasdale Hall estate sales details shortly after the first world war and many others.
Unfortunately, the OS made an uncharacteristic lapse in procedure when they recorded the placenames in Wasdale. They had used Scafell Pike as a corner of one of the principle triangles in 1826. At that stage the mountain did not have that name of its own - it was referred to by the OS as "Sca-fell Higher Top" (and I do wonder if the hyphen was really a "w" in terrible handwriting). So this name had stuck with the surveyors by the time their "name book" procedures had been developed during their work in Ireland. In short, no-one asked the locals what the mountain was called or how it was spelt.
The first OS map of the area was published in 1867. By then the name Scafell Pike had been substituted for the older "Pikes of Scawfell" (of which this peak was one). The OS spelling was largely ignored until the guide book publishers started including maps. These used the OS spelling, so the text was obliged to abandon the old form (so, losing the "w") to be consistent. For instance, Harriett Martineau's guidebook made the switch (in the text) to "Scafell" in the 4th edition (published in the year of the author's death, 1876). This was the definitive guide book to the Lake District for over 25 years.
Interestingly, the advertisers in these guide books continued to use the phonetic spelling for many years after that - which must have made a puzzling read for some users. (Refer to Baddeley's guide, which replaced Martineau's for popularity in about 1880 - the phonetic form was certainly used exclusively by advertisers in the early 1900s.)
The two forms, "Scawfell" and "Scafell" were equally common by the 1920s (as measured by analysis of newspapers in the British Newspaper Archive), but eventually the phonetic form fell by the wayside in most written sources.
Then, the newly spelt form has started to impact pronunciation. Today, users of "Scaw..." include BBC Radio Cumbria (most of the time), people with a long standing local connection - such as those in the farming community around Wasdale, older generation hill-walkers who have some empathy with the regions they visit, Julia Bradbury (who has properly researched the places she makes programs about). The newer (and thoroughly grating) "Scar..." form is used by: visitors to the area, the local mountain rescue team (because they have to be consistent with those who most often get lost on the fells) and people who work for the BBC in London.
There is a lot more to say on this subject - but the above is probably enough for now.

1221521.  Mon Jan 16, 2017 11:01 am Reply with quote

Hi thoughtidretired and welcome to the forums :-)

That's an interesting quibble - pronunciations of places do change over time though.

I live in Maine, and there is a town in our state called Woolwich. For generations it was pronounced locally the same way as Woolwich in London, i.e. Wool-itch, which is presumably the place it was named for. However, as people from out of state and from different areas moved in, the name is now generally said as Wool-witch.


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