Why it’s disrespectful and offensive to put the word ‘the’ in front of Gower
Is it too late to persuade the media and others to stop using the offensive ‘the’ word when referring to the beautiful land of Gower?
Placing the definite article before ‘Gower’ is not just an unnecessary intrusion – it is disrespectful of the history of Wales.
The boundaries of ancient Gower date back centuries to a time long before the Norman invasion.
Gower proper includes not only the peninsula (Gŵyr Is Coed) but the whole of the inland territory between the rivers Llwchwr and Aman to the west and the Twrch and Tawe to the east (Gŵyr Uwch Coed).
Therefore prefixing the peninsular part of Gower with “the” ignores the existence of a substantial chunk of the land of Wales, a bit hard on the good people of Pontardawe, Clydach and Gorseinon.
Gower emerged as a distinct territory from the seventh century on, its boundaries crossing the Tawe to include the land around Kilvey Hill, and forming an area quite similar to the modern City and County of Swansea.
Even after the Normans annexed much of peninsular Gower, displacing the indigenous population with settlers from Flanders and England, they recognised the ancient Welsh boundaries.
That meant that the Lordship of Gower, whether ruled by feudal dynasties such as the de Breos family, or directly by the Crown as it was by King John, included both the peninsula and its hinterland.
The unity of Gower was respected throughout the centuries that followed. For example, the 19th century writer Thomas Roscoe records that the stone bridge crossing the River Neath into the “little borough” of Neath marks “the boundary of Gowerland”.
These days, if you fancy something to put in your tonic you can buy Gower Gin, while real ale aficionados go for Gower Power or Gower Gold.
If you have a sweet tooth you can purchase Gower Brownies. There is no mention of “The” in any of their titles. Education is provided by Gower College (again, no “The”) and by Ysgol Gyfun Gŵyr (no “Y”). Methodists can attend one of the chapels of Swansea and Gower Methodist Circuit.
It is true that you will hear the misplaced definite article in day to day parlance, but in my view this reflects years of slipshod media treatment and official misuse. Once it even appeared in the title of the new metric series of Ordnance Survey maps, although this error was acknowledged and corrected following a strong campaign by the Gower Society.
At one time the late Wynford Vaughan-Thomas could say: “No one born in Swansea or the peninsula ever calls it The Gower. And after all the original name was Gŵyr and not Y Gŵyr.”
But now not even the Welsh language is immune. The day after the 2015 General Election I heard a BBC political correspondent describe the Gower constituency as “Y Gŵyr”.
That was the first time for me to hear such an abomination, but sadly these days it happens all too frequently.
I have lost count how many times I have seen “the Gower” appear in television subtitles, on one occasion in a Welsh language programme when nature presenter Iolo Williams had (quite correctly) used the word “Gŵyr”.
Surely our broadcasters have a particular responsibility to get it right? After all, the BBC produces numerous memoranda of guidance on the use and pronunciation of a wide range of languages.
Or could it be that the mistake has found its way into BBC guidelines, and is now being spread around in both languages with the Corporation’s official blessing?
The much loved and sadly missed poet Nigel Jenkins once told Peter Finch on Mumbles headland: “It’s Gower, just Gower. No definite article.”
He was right.