Tag Archives: languages


A training gallop

A small piece of work connected with the London Borough of Brent led me to think about some other Brents: specifically, the river, the geese, the oil field, and the price of crude. Any connections or none? I decided to take myself out for a little research training gallop.

I’ve found two quite separate groups of Brents. One involves the goddess Brigantia, the river and the borough. The other group brings together the geese, the oil field and a benchmark price for crude oil. It’s been strange to find a connection between the two groups, between the goddess Brigantia and the geese. It’s just a coincidence, probably.

The borough, the river and the goddess Brigantia

Brent is a borough in the north-west of London. It’s been in existence since 1964 and is in outer London. Kilburn, Wembley, Harlesden are three well-known areas. [1]

The borough is named after the River Brent, a tributary of the River Thames. The river is almost 18 miles long and joins the Thames at Brentford. [2]

The earliest record of Brentford (and of the river) is in a letter of 705 AD when the Bishop of London suggested meeting at Breġuntford. The date suggests that this placename may be related to the Celtic *brigant– meaning ‘high’ or ‘elevated’, perhaps linked to the goddess Brigantia. [3]

The geese and the oilfield

The Brent Goose, Branta bernicla (Linnaeus 1758), is a small, dark goose, about the same size as a mallard. The head is black and the neck and back are grey-brown. The belly is either a pale or dark belly, depending on the sub-species. Adults have a small white neck patch. [4]

Here, the word ‘brent’ is derived from the Norse word ‘brendr’, meaning burnt. The geese have this name because of their charcoal colour. [5]

Brent geese nest on boggy Arctic tundra where they have a few months of good weather to raise a brood before the weather turns bad. They migrate south from mid-September and those which over-winter in Britain and Ireland arrive in large flocks in early October. They spend the winter feeding on eelgrass in estuaries and on crops in nearby fields. In April they fly north to the Arctic once again.

Listen to Brent geese here (scroll down a bit).

The Brent oil and gas field lies in the North Sea between Shetland and Norway and is named after the Brent goose. The field is operated by Shell UK Ltd which initially named all of its UK oil fields after seabirds, alphabetically by discovery – Auk, Brent, Cormorant, Dunlin, Eider, Fulmar and so on. The initials of the Brent field were then used in naming the parts of the Middle Jurassic geological period which make up the oilfield. These are the Broom, Rannoch, Etive, Ness and Tarbert formations, each named after a Scottish loch. Sensible from an oil-and-gas perspective perhaps but a little surprising for someone on a morning outing. [6]

The Brent oil field ended production at the end of February 2011, and is being decommissioned over the next 25 years. [7]

And the price of Brent Crude

We hear the term ‘Brent Crude’ in the financial part of the news. ‘And the price of Brent Crude is …’  So what is it and why is it important?

Brent Crude is a trading classification of sweet, light crude oil. [8] This type of oil was originally produced from the Brent oilfield in the North Sea and now comprises Brent Blend, Forties Blend, Oseberg and Ekofisk crudes. The classification is also known as the BFOE Quotation. It’s a benchmark crude which provides a reference price for buying and selling. Around two-thirds of the world’s oil is priced relative to it. [9]

Unexpected romance


Photo credit: BrigitteCelt by Paul Barlow. Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BrigitteCelt.jpg#/media/File:BrigitteCelt.jpg

This is a first century AD bronze statuette of a female goddess, possibly Brigantia. The statuette is in the Museum of Brittany at Rennes (F) where she is known as Brigitte. Remarkably, from my point of view for this post, she is wearing a helmet surmounted by a goose or swan with outstretched head and wings. The helmet also has an extremely long crest.

In etymology as in the rest of life, I do know that all may not be what it seems at first glance. There is no link between Brigantia and the Brent goose. All that glisters is not gold.

I rather like, though, how the headgear of a goddess who might possibly be Brigantia but perhaps is not, can unexpectedly draw together the findings of this small research exercise. Unexpected romance.

Photo credits

The Brent Geese at the top of the page are Ringgås in Lista, Norway photographed by Marton Berntsen. (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.


[1] https://www.brent.gov.uk/

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/River_Brent

Canham, Roy and Glanville G H (1978). A London Museum Archaeological Report: 2000 years of Brentford. Ch 2, p3. HMSO. ISBN 978-0-11-290176-1. In https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/River_Brent

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brigantia_%28goddess%29

[4] http://www.allaboutmigration.com/about-brent-geese/

[5] http://www.healthylifeessex.co.uk/pages/outdoor-life/BrentGoose.html

Old Norse – brendr http://www.verbix.com/webverbix/go.php?D1=17&H1=117&T1=brenna

Icelandic – brennt http://www.verbix.com/webverbix/go.php?D1=28&H1=128&T1=brenna

Nynorsk – brent https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/brenna

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brent_oilfield

[7] http://royaldutchshellplc.com/2012/02/21/brent-oilfield-to-be-decommissioned/


[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brent_Crude

[9] https://www.theice.com/brent-crude



The reader’s trust was broken

The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz. Orion Books, 2011.

This post is a grumble, I suppose. I started reading the book in good faith, wanting a quick and smooth read to pass a few hours on Christmas Day.

I’ve read all the Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and many other gas-lit and foggy stories of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, from the Strand Magazine and elsewhere. I’ve also read a fair number of books for and about children in this period – the Cat Royal books set by Julia Golding in the 1790s, Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart historical thrillers and his books about the New Cut Gang, for example.

I’m used to the writing of the period, and to books set in the period. I know that Americans do occasionally turn up in these books.

All was going well as I lay reading in front of the fire. Sherlock Holmes had met a man’s wife. He said to her, ‘We will examine the safe and the study momentarily. But before we do so, Mrs Carstairs, I can tell from your accent that you are American.’ (p49)

And a big bell clanged in my head.

By ‘momentarily’ was meant ‘in a moment’. ‘Momentarily’ is not the word Sherlock Holmes would use for this, surely. Firstly, it is an American usage and secondly, comments on the Merriam-Webster website suggest it is new and stems from wrong usage.

Why did Horowitz use ‘momentarily’, when he tells us that one of the ten rules he set out for himself in writing The House of Silk was ‘use the right language’? (p403) Here are the possibilities, as I see them.

a. Sherlock Holmes used this word as he was speaking to an American and he wanted to make her feel at home. Unlikely, as Holmes is simply not that kind of person and, anyway, it is a new usage.

b. This word is a normal part of Holmes’s British English nineteenth / early twentieth century vocabulary. No, it isn’t.

c. In normal British English today, this word does actually mean ‘in a moment’. No, it doesn’t. For the majority of people, across most of the country, it means ‘for a very short period of time’, ‘for a moment’.

d. It is a signal to North American readers in the large North American book market that this book is OK and is for them. That they can relax and enjoy the story. Yes, this is what I think and what I thought, immediately I read that sentence.

The inelegant, clunky way in which the author acknowledges his large potential North American readership broke the flow of my reading. It made me notice and be niggled by all the small editing mistakes I found later in the book. It made me notice the walk-on appearance of Raymond Chandler as author on p88: ‘It was a fairly dismal place with tattered curtains, a mouldering carpet and a bed that looked more exhausted than anyone who might have attempted to sleep in it.’

It made me see the book not as a story but as a calculating money-making venture by the Conan Doyle Estate and Horowitz, a view confirmed when child abuse by men in high places was revealed as the mystery’s linking thread. It broke the trust between the book and me, the reader.

Call vermell: making wine in the red streets of Mallorca

Young vines at Son Prim, Sencelles
Young vines at Son Prim, Sencelles

Recent work for Son Prim, a small family-run vineyard in Mallorca, made me think again about the red soil known in Mallorquín as call vermell. This red clay, often mixed with sand, gravel and stones, was formed by the erosion of limestone.

Alcover-Moll, the dictionary of Catalan/Valencian/Balearic languages describes call vermell as ‘granular and very dry soil, red in colour, which sharpens the plough when working it’.

According to the etymologist, Joan Corominas, the word call comes from the Latin word callis (streets), which was used to describe different sorts of steps and paths. He suggests that call vermell’s malleability, when worked by the plough, makes it look like streets. The ploughshare opens up the ground and, as water makes its way in, the furrows become bright red.

Call vermell describes a range of soils whose depth, clay and gravel content vary. Some soils are more suitable for cereals or sheep grazing. The more freely draining soils suit vine growing. Here, the clay component acts as a store of nutrients, sought out by the vines’ roots.


Coromines, Joan. Diccionari etimològic i complementari de la Llengua Catalana. Barcelona: Curial, 1981. P. 432-433

Scrivener and languages

Work seems to have entered another multilingual phase which is very pleasant. I’ve been translating from Spanish to English. I’ve decided to get my Finnish out of the cupboard and shine it up a little. I’m following French politics. And Welsh and Italian are just ongoing.

For Finnish, I’ve decided to follow Alexander Stubb, @alexstubb, on twitter. He’s the prime minister and leader of the National Coalition Party. He tweets in Finnish, Swedish and English and he can’t get too complicated in 140 characters. So following him is ideal for brushing up some basics and starting to put together a technical (political) vocabulary. These words go into my LangScriv project.

One of my Spanish projects is for a small winemaker: descriptions of wine, the website, a press release. All of these use technical vocabulary (geology, processes and so on) so that’s in LangScriv too – in the Spanish chapter.

I’ve turned off all the spelling and grammar checkers as Scrivener doesn’t have Finnish. It does, though, have four types of English, two types of Portuguese, and a clutch of other languages (nine, in fact) so I’ll use it in the future. Edit / Spelling and Grammar / Show Spelling and Grammar / box at the bottom ‘automatic by language’

Scrivener has all the accents I need at present. Edit / Special Characters / Latin

Past experience tells me that I should write out vocabulary by hand in order to learn it soundly. That’s why I’ve got all those vocab exercise books, of course. What I’m doing with Scrivener is building personal dictionaries. Let’s see whether the words make it into my long-term memory.