A use of language I find endlessly interesting is the naming of streets.
The lives of prominent citizens can be traced in the names a community gives its thoroughfares. Many great figures (or sometimes a crook who managed to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes for a while!) has had their name preserved this way.
It is a town’s history, a type of history you can walk on.
As a youngster in Monifieth, more than half a century ago, I was taught by two Miss Rattrays. The Primary 1 teacher Miss Rattray was a gentle soul, whereas her sister (who became my teacher in P4), was a more formidable proposition – a woman I dared not offer cheek to.
I think of both every time see Rattray Street. It was named for their father, James Maxwell Rattray, a former provost of Monifieth.
Local dignitaries aside, there is a rich and varied collection of street names in Courier Country.
The intriguingly-titled Front Lebanon, a lane in Cupar, reminds me of the People’s Front of Judea (or the Judean People’s Front) from the movie The Life Of Brian. Though the lane’s Pythonesque name greatly pre-dates the movie.
Peep O’ Day Lane in Dundee is another long-time favourite. The romantic label was given because you can look to the horizon and glimpse the first herald of dawn rising over the Tay Estuary.
Toutie Street in Alyth is another interesting one, largely because the child in me thinks of it as Tooty Street where bugle-players must live.
There are some strange one-word names. Woodriffe in Newburgh, Roods in Kirriemuir, Kilnburn in Newport-on-Tay, and many more. It’s as if an accompanying word – lane, road, crescent, etc. – dropped off and no one noticed.
I also love the images thrown up by Perth’s vennels. The old term conjures thoughts of places dark, narrow, and noisome. Cutlog Vennel, Salt Vennel, Oliphants Vennel . . . something of shadow lingers within those titles.
But I must take issue with some failures of punctuation. Surely there should be an apostrophe in Drummers Dell in Forfar?
Worse, St Margaret’s Park, also in Forfar, has an apostrophe on maps. On the street itself, however, there is one sign that misses out the apostrophe – opposite another sign that includes the apostrophe. Surely the least a town can do is signpost its own streets consistently and correctly?
Of all the street names in this area, my favourite is Mount Zion Brae in Arbroath. It is the amalgamation of a Biblical reference with the old Scots “brae” I find colourful. A memorable and wonderful mix of languages.
Word of the week
Having an offensive smell. EG: “There would have been many a noisome whiff in the old days of the Flesher’s Vennel”.
Read the latest Oh my word! every Saturday in The Courier. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org