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01:00 Mon 04th Feb 2002 |

Q. Meaning

A. The Latin words finis terre mean 'the end of the earth' or 'land's end'.

Q. And

A. Cabo de Finisterre - Cape Finisterre - is the name of a length of the Galician coast in the north-west of Spain, which was believed to be the westernmost edge of the world. Finisterre is also an area of the Atlantic out to the west of Spain and Portugal south of the Bay of Biscay.

Q. Why are you telling us this

A. Because, with effect from midday on 4 February 2002, the name so familiar to generations of radio listeners - and those for whom the broadcast is really intended, those in peril on the sea - is being changed to FitzRoy, after the founder of the Meteorological Office. Finisterre has featured in every forecast since the name was first coined in 1949, but, apparently, Spain uses the same term to describe a slightly different, smaller area. So, following complaints from the United Nations World Meteorological Organisation, France, which has overall responsibility for forecasts off the Atlantic coast of Europe, was ordered to make Britain change its area name.

A spokesman for the Met Office said: 'The Spanish were adamant that they wanted to keep their Finisterre. We had no alternative. After all, they have used it for years and it is in their patch.' However, a member of the Royal Naval Association said, topically: 'I hope they don't concede Gibraltar as quickly.'

Q. Hasn't this kind of thing happened before

A. It has. Back in 1956 Heligoland was replaced by German Bight - and you can be sure that letters were written to The Times about that!

Q. Who was Admiral FitzRoy, then

A. Born in 1805, Robert FitzRoy was a British naval officer, hydrographer and meteorologist whose best-known exploit is that he commanded the voyage of HMS Beagle, which provided Darwin with much of the material on which he based his theory of evolution.

Later in life FitzRoy had a varied career, including becoming Member of Parliament for Durham in 1841 and governor of New Zealand between 1843 and 1845, being recalled largely because he contended that Maori land claims were as valid as those of the settlers. He retired from active duty in 1850 and from 1854 devoted himself to meteorology. He devised a storm warning system that was the prototype of the daily weather forecast, invented a barometer, published The Weather Book (1863) and was the founding father of the Met Office.

He committed suicide in 1865 during a period of mental instability, allegedly because he got the forecast wrong one day.

Q. But, what is it with the Shipping Forecast

A. Broadcast four times a day on BBC Radio 4, the Shipping Forecast has many thousands of listeners, most of whom will have spent no more time at sea than a ferry ride across the Channel. The most popular is the 0048 transmission, when the familiar mantra is the best antidote to insomnia around. There's something almost impossibly romantic - while still very comforting - about the litany of names, and even when the most appalling weather is being forecast, the announcer's voice is evenly pitched. It's so popular that references to it have made their way into all manner of plays, novels and films.

Q. Such as

A. In the novel A Kestrel for a Knave (perhaps better known as the film Kes), there's a scene in the classroom as the teacher is taking the register, in which our hero, Billy Casper, blurts out 'German Bight' after the name Fisher is called. On being asked to explain himself, he replies: 'It wa' when you said Fisher. It just came out, Fisher - German Bight. It's the shipping forecast, Sir; German Bight comes after Fisher; Fisher, German Bight, Cromarty. I know 'em all, I listen to it every night, I like to hear the names.'

Know what he means...

Q. And those sea areas in full

A. Viking, North Utsire, South Utsire, Forties, Cromarty, Forth, Tyne, Dogger, Fisher, German Bight, Humber, Thames, Dover, Wight, Portland, Plymouth, Biscay, Finisterre - sorry, FitzRoy - Sole, Lundy, Fastnet, Irish Sea, Shannon, Rockall, Malin, Hebrides, Bailey, Fair Isle, Faeroes, Southeast Iceland...zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

For more on Phrases & Sayings click here

By Simon Smith

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