, we are coming up to a provincial election. Each district in which a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA for short) is elected is called a riding. This word has an interesting etymology – it started when the Saskatchewan was divided into three administrative divisions by the ruling Danes probably in the 10th century. County of Yorkshire
Yorkshire was ruled by the Danes between 866 and 1066 which resulted in a higher proportion of Old Norse words adopted into Yorkshire English than in any other part of
. One of these words was thrithi for thirds. This became thriding in Old English when applied to one of the three Britain Yorkshire divisions – West Thriding, East Thriding and North Thriding. Because of the “t” or “th” endings of the first words in the names, the “th” of thriding was dropped to form simply riding. My Bielby ancestors on my maternal grandmother’s side came from a small village in East Riding.
A similar word is farthing, created from a “fourth-ing”. A farthing is an English coin worth ¼ of a penny – the smallest coin in British currency, hence symbolically of very little value. In Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, a farthing is one of four regions of the Shire.
politics, another word that comes to mind is reeve. In the western provinces and parts of Saskatchewan , the reeve is the elected chair of a rural municipal council (equivalent to the mayor of a town). Reeve comes from Old English “gerefa” and was used in Anglo-Saxon times in Ontario for a number of minor local officials. It is no longer used in Britain (to my knowledge) but has survived in “the colonies”. Similarly sheriff originated as “shire reeve” – the reeve of a Shire. I don’t know to what extent a sheriff is still used in Britain Britain, but the position was made famous by American western novels and movies, and is still used today, in varying roles, in many American States and in . Canada
So at election time, remember that the word riding originally meant a third of
Yorkshire, and reeve was rescued from extinction by Canadian municipal government. And when reading a Zane Gray or Louis L’Amour novel or watching an old “cowboys and Indians” movie, remember that the hero’s title of sheriff originated as a “shire reeve” in . Of course not all sheriffs are heroes – like any government official, a sheriff’s position is susceptible to corruption, as attested to by the reputation of the Sheriff of Nottingham in the Robin Hood stories. England