Scilly Isles

AttestedPliny 4,16,103 Silumnus (or Silimnus); Solinus 22 Siluram insulam (or possibly Sillinas); Sulpicius Severus Sylinancim insulam (or Sylinam).  R&S discussed the various spellings in detail.

Where:  The Scilly Isles.

Name origin:  Greek συν ‘together’ plus λιμην ‘harbour’ yields a geographically logical form close to Silimnus.  The consonant pair NL shifted to LL in many Greek words, including the precursors of syllable and syllogism.  Greek was the prestige language of Gaul when maritime trade links with Britain were first established, much of Latin nautical terminology was Greek, and many coastal names have survived best in the Greek of Ptolemy.  The modern spelling Scilly with a C seems to have no ancient basis, but one might suspect a link with PIE *(s)kel- ‘to cut’, from which came Irish sceilleg (modern Skellig) ‘rock’, ancient Scylla, and many Germanic words such as skill.  Also late was Sully, probably named by Norse sailors, whose word súla ‘pillar, column’ survives in Sule Skerry and Sule Stack, two isolated small islands west of Orkney, and also formed the first element in English solan ‘gannet’.  Names in Sil- and Sul- are often problematic.  For example, see about PIE *sei- ‘to bind’, discussed under Silures.

Notes:  The Scillies (plural) seem to have been regarded as one main island in Roman times.  There appears to be no certainty about when sea level rise split it up, but a reasonable guess is that ancient sailors knew a complex archipelago of multiple harbours and tidal beaches functionally rather like Scapa Flow, Stockholm, or numerous atolls .

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Last edited: 13 June 2019
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