Hogus Again and How(e)

Photo credit: Tim Bekaert. The image is in the public domain.

In the light of what follows the idea that the word hogus has a Cornish derivation must be abandoned, I think.

Mr. Pengelly refers the name ” Hogus,” now applied to the rocky ledge between Marazion and the Mount, to an old Scandinavian derivation, meaning “a rock in or near a wood adjacent to water, and used for sacrificial purposes.”

Mr. Peacock takes exception to this determination on the ground that Hogus (in Guernsey hougue, French hogue, neo-Latin hoga) sometimes denotes a quarriable knoll, of which he gives examples.

This is a quote from page 11 of a work entitled The Recent Geology of Cornwall by W.A.E.Ussher. It was first published in the Geological Magazine in 1879.

In a sense Mr Pengelly and Mr Peacock were both right. Mr Pengelly’s rather fanciful notion is correct inasmuch as it identifies the word as old Scandinavian. Mr Peacock’s words derive from this, presumably via Norman French. The word in question is the Old Norse haugr, which according to the OED means ‘mound’ or ‘cairn’. It has descendants or cognates in many languages including English, where it turns up as how, howe, hough, or houe. This means ‘a hill’ or ‘a mound’.

What you can see in the picture above is Maeshowe, a Neolithic chambered cairn on Mainland Orkney. It is mentioned in The Orkneyinga Saga, where it is called Orkhaugr – ‘great tomb’.

Rocks and pasties

Last Friday we went out to lunch at the Godolphin Arms Hotel in Marazion. It’s marked as 5 on the aerial view above. The food, the service and the view were wonderful. Unfortunately, the weather was not. From where we sat in the dining room we could see Chapel Rock (4 above) which stands near the landward end of the causeway from St Michael’s Mount (3). When we first sat down, the causeway was uncovered, but pretty soon the tide started washing over it. A group of people were messing about on top of Chapel Rock and suddenly there was a great rush to get off. I reckon that they would have been stranded if they had left it just one minute later. It just goes to show how careful you have to be with the sea and why people are always getting into trouble. Before we left, I encountered some rather soggy lads in the gents’ loo trying to get dry.

In a post about Cornish placenames in 2009 I am afraid I goofed and provided a picture of Chapel Rock and called it Great Hogus. Great Hogus and Little Hogus are at 2 and 1 respectively in the aerial view. I am still uncertain about the meaning and derivation of the word hogus. There is a Cornish word hoggan. Here is what the OED has to say under the entry for the word oggy (= ‘pasty’):

Probably an alteration (see -y suffix6, with loss of initial h-) of Cornish hoggan pastry, pie (18th cent.), further etymology uncertain; perhaps a specific use (via a sense ‘lump of dough’) of an otherwise unattested cognate of Breton hogenn pile, heap, or perhaps cognate with Welsh chwiogen muffin, simnel-cake (15th cent.), of unknown origin.

It’s a bit of a jump from hogus to hoggan, but that’s the best I can come up with.

Photo credit: Ordnance Survey

Mervyn Peake

I have just been re-reading bits of Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake. It is not a work noted for comedy, but I came across one sentence which made me laugh out loud:

But both the Doctor and his sister found that the Ladies Cora and Clarice had not been paying the slightest attention but had been staring at Steerpike more in the manner of a wall staring at a man than a man staring at a wall.

Definitely a “I wish I had written that” sort of sentence.

I have searched for a copyright-free picture of Peake, but I came up against what you can see in the picture above. The Wikipedia entry has a photo of him though.

Photo credit:Jonathan Riley. Used under this licence.


The thing in the picture is a stone cross dating, it is thought, from the first part of the 11th century. It now stands outside the Penlee House museum and art gallery in Penlee Park in the centre of Penzance, although it was moved there relatively recently. It is called the Ricatus Cross, because there is on the side an inscription which may read REGI RICATI CRUX (“the cross of King Ricatus”). It is, however, very difficult to read and other interpretations of it exist.

If this reading and the dating of the cross are correct, it is unlikely that Ricatus was a king ruling over the whole of Cornwall. By the 11th century Cornwall was firmly under the domination of the Saxons. But Ricatus, if he ever existed, may have been a local bigwig with aspirations.

In the 16th century drama Beunans Meriasek (“Life of Saint Meriadoc”) the names of four kings of Cornwall are mentioned. One of these is Pygys, which just could be a misreading for Rygys, and that just could be the Cornish original name on which the latinised Ricatus was based.

It’s a mystery.