Monday, December 13, 2004

What town are you from again?

is the longest placename in Britain, with 58 letters. It is a town in North Wales meaning "St. Mary's Church in the hollow of the white hazel near to the rapid whirlpool of Llantysilio of the red cave" or "St. Mary's (Church) by the white aspen over the whirlpool, and St. Tysilio's (Church) by the red cave" in Welsh.

The 'real', and official, name of the place is Llanfairpwllgwyngyll, which is how it appears on maps and road signs. It's also referred to as Llanfair PG. The 19th-century extension of the name is certainly not in anything like common use, except by tedious English people who like to show off.

Dale Williams of New Zealand says that the Welsh placename is a nineteenth-century fabrication, adopted to look good on their railway place boards, whereas a Maori name for a hill in New Zealand is genuine and was in general use. It has 85 letters: TAUMATAWHAKATANGIHANGAKOAUAUOTAMATEATURIPUKAKAPIKI- MAUNGAHORONUKUPOKAIWHENUAKITANATAHU. Williams says, "If we want to go there now we call it Taumata." New Zealand broadcaster Henare Te Ua says the word celebrates the prowess of a great Maori chief who possessed enormous personal power. Chief Tamatea was so mighty and powerful that, metaphorically, he could even eat mountains. There was a gentle side to his personality too. He could play his nose flute beautifully and quite charmingly to his loved ones.

The word, Henare said, means "The summit of the hill, where Tamatea, who is known as the land eater, slid down, climbed up and swallowed mountains, played on his nose flute to his loved one." The hill, about 1000 feet in height, is in Southern Hawke's Bay, a district on the eastern side of the north island. The word as spelled above now has 85 letters and agrees with the spelling in the 1992 Guinness Book of Records."