Tuesday, August 03, 2010

an elephant's head couped gules, armed or

Couple of things I spotted while being entertained by the good people at the BBC over the last few days:
  • Firstly, on one of my mid-morning trips to Tesco today I caught some of Woman's Hour on Radio 4 and noticed they were doing a dramatisation of Isabel Colegate's The Shooting Party, featured here not so long ago. It took me a few minutes to realise it wasn't The Archers, though, admittedly.
  • Also, I was catching up on a couple of old episodes of University Challenge last night and noticed that one of the questions was about the derivation of names of some London main-line railway stations; one of the stations was Elephant & Castle and the programme gave the usual story about it being a corruption of "Infanta de Castile". Trouble is, this lovely plausible story is almost certainly completely made up, the most plausible actual explanation being that it is connected to emblems of London craft guilds, and cutlers in particular. The odd coincidence here is that I was unaware that the usual story is pretty spurious until a week or so ago, when I was moved to look it up for reasons I can't now remember. Spooky? Well, no.
  • Just to piss on your chips a bit more, it turns out that the explanation everyone knows for pubs being called The Goat And Compasses (i.e. that it's a corruption of "God Encompasseth Us" or something similarly prayer-y) has a similarly tenuous link with reality, the real explanation probably being craft guild emblems again. A little crumb of comfort can be gleaned from gaining the knowledge that the word "chevron" derives from the Latin for "goat" (cf the French chèvre), as does the word "caper" in the sense of running about like an arse. Or acting the goat, if you will.


Smeg said...

If the crest is "an elephant's head couped gules, armed or", why is it usually depicted as a complete elephant? And in the case of the Cutlers (appalling) website, not even a red elephant. Muppets.

electrichalibut said...

I suppose that is an obvious potential side-effect of the bonkers heraldic language business; a tendency for stuff to get lost in translation. Although admittedly "elephant's head" seems fairly unambiguous. Plus, of course, if you've only got the head, where do you put the castle? So many questions.