Sunday, January 08, 2012

Losing the apostrophe on Ben A'an



This well-trodden nub of steepness in the Trossachs is anglicized into Gaelic, if you can think of it like that. That  tourist board poet Walter Scott, re-imagining the Trossachs as a heroic Celtic heartland, heard the original name 'Beannan' (small mountain) and came up with 'Ben-an heaved high his forehead bare'. Then, at some point, an apostrophe was added, I can find out no reason why other than to suggest a kind of imagined Gaelic by a confused OS surveyor or Victorian poets and guide-book writers trying to suffuse an element of throatiness into this tiny, confused and very simple peak. A bit like the 'h' in 'Rhum', it should just be sawn off at the stump.


 After the storms on the Ben An path...

'Am Binnean' is the most accurate original guess ('small pointed peak') and the Gaels have always erred on the side of simple topographical description and human lives were generally too short, violent and irrelevant to christen hills otherwise. Timothy Pont's maps all had Gaelic names mis-translated into the more restrictive throat of English and to this day the English alphabet struggles to suggest the richness of the timbre in Gaelic, hence maybe the guilt over Ben An and the adding of the apostrophe. Older maps of the peak bracket it as 'Binnein' and we should stick to this, or 'Am Binnean'. If we do have to anglicize it, just go the whole hog and call it Ben An, with no mysterious and confusing retro-Gaelicization.


It was well windy up here on the 7th January and at the top, struggling hard to keep the camera steady, I could feel all those apostrophes flying uselessly through the air...



1 comment:

N├Čall Beag said...

Well that is quite interesting. I though "A'an" was Scott's spelling, and therefore I assumed it was supposed to represent a glottal stop that has since been lost in the local pronunciation.

I'm not clear on whether you're suggesting "Beannan" or "Am Binnein" as the original Gaelic, though. Which has the older sources?

Post a Comment