n. A city in eastern England.

I just finished Ariana Franklin’s very compelling medieval mystery novel Mistress in the Art of Death.  The book was lovely, if not for the increase to my vocabulary alone (I never knew what a glaive was, for example), and my next few words will all be from this book.

The book is set in Cambridge, current home of the university, during the reign of Henry II.  I have visited Cambridge, back in 1992, and have almost no recollection of the trip in the least (ah, the sad frailty of memory).  So, despite the fact that I have been there, I did not in the least remember the name of the river that runs right through the city.

Cambridge was build around the river Cam.  Obviously, the name indicates that it was the location of a prominent bridge over the river.  This opened my eyes to the wondefful, but obvious, origins of many English place names.  Oxford, for example, makes obvious sense.  The town of Elephant and Castle is still a mystery to me.

Franklin admits that during the setting of her book, however, Cambridge was still probably called Grentabrige, from the earlier Grantebrygce, because the river Cam was originally known as the Granta.  Oddly, according to Wikipedia, the name of the town changed to Cambridge, and the river only changed its name to match the town.  Therefore, Cambridge isn’t actually named because of its location on the river Cam, but the other way around.  Sort of…


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