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Top 10 Metatheses: Orpah Winfrey

John Rentoul

brid 300x225 Top 10 Metatheses: Orpah WinfreyThis week’s Top 10 in the Independent on Sunday magazine is metatheses, the transposition of sounds in words.

Bird used to be brid (that’s not a misspelling, pictured, that’s etymology), wasp used to be waps and dusk used to be dox.

I could have had a separate category for people’s names. Matthew Bell says that in Nepal Alexander the Great is called Sikander.

Tom Griffin draws my attention to the name Cedric. It was an alteration or misspelling by Walter Scott in Ivanhoe of the Anglo-Saxon Cerdic.

But the best example comes from the great Francis Wheen:

I nominate Oprah Winfrey, who was originally called Orpah, after Ruth’s sister-in-law in the Old Testament (see book of Ruth, chapter 1).

Here’s Oprah’s own account, which you can hear in a video:

“I was born, as I said, in rural Mississippi in 1954. I was born at home. There were not a lot of educated people around and my name had been chosen from the Bible. My Aunt Ida had chosen the name, but nobody really knew how to spell it, so it went down as ‘Orpah’ on my birth certificate but people didn’t know how to pronounce it, so they put the ‘P’ before the ‘R’ in every place else other than the birth certificate. On the birth certificate it is Orpah, but then it got translated to Oprah, so here we are.”

Finally, countries. That the Spanish for Algeria is Argelia is strangely wonderful.

Mary Novakovich says that Bosnia Hercegovina is actually Bosna i Hercegovina – Bosna and Hercegovina – but the i has been transposed in English.

David Aaronovitch suggested several other “so nearly places”: Ablania. Buglaria. Svolakia. Atily. Rohullah Yakobi suggested Kurtey, Simon Landau ‏Vatlia, and I suggested Aremica and Mendark, which Aaronovitch thought might be near Nomgolia. Abutting Nifland.

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  • Ciaran Goggins

    You missed the most famous one. Imogen (girl’s name) was Innogen and a typo on the first folio altered it.


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