Truro…? How do you say it, and what does it mean? Old memories are dying out: does anyone from the west still tell of the froze labber? That’s the sound of the current off the western shore of Penwith, and simply means “the labouring of the current”, Cornish froxe and lavure. The word we want is froze. Dr. Edward Lhuyd who visited Cornwall in 1700 recorded the word an frou: “the flux”, or as we might say “the skeet”, “squits” or “sqiddles”, literally just “the flowing”! Frou and froze are two forms of what is essentially the same word; Breton has froud: current, and Welsh has ffrwd: stream, the same word again, but also interestingly ffrau, with much the same sense. Now tre or tri is a form of the Cornish word for three that is sometimes to he found in place-names. Let’s invent a place-name. Let’s put tri with frou… Trifrou: Three Currents. It sounds like that other Cornish place-name, Three Waters. Now let’s look at some of the old spellings for Truro. We find noted in Oliver Padel’s book, Cornish Place-Names, Triueru c.1173, Triwereu in 1201, Truru c. 1289. Where do the letters V and F come from here? The normal pronunciation of a single F in Cornish should be, as in Welsh, V. That’s one problem solved.
But again, it is quite normal to pronounce V as W (or U). In this way our invented name, Trifrou, would be correctly pro-nounced as “trew roo”: you will notice how close this is to the first recorded version of Truro as Triueru!
The name of our capital means non other than Three Waters, or Three Currents, that is to say, the Allen, the Kenwyn, and what is generally called today the Truro river, but a long time ago must surely have been called the Esk, hence Moresk, and the same name as the Exe. Cornish Careesk: Exeter. But how should we pronounce Truro?
It is supposed to be vernacular to say “Trura”, but this is a recent develop-ment, probably in line with “Padsta” for Padstow, and is perhaps parallel with the phenomenon of “fella” for fellow, and such words. I have always noticed how Welsh people say “trewroo”, which is unconsciously quite correct, and indeed the accepted pronunciation of “trooroh” is not far from the truth! So that’s it Truro: Three Waters. Say it as you see it!