Sterling - Stirling

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Do not confused the homophones sterling and Stirling. Both are pronounced 'STIR-ling', IPA: /ˈstɜːr lɪŋ/.

  • sterling is a common noun, often used epithetically (usually postpositively) as an adjective. It originally meant 'a silver penny', of coinage after the Norman Conquest, which was trustewd throughout Europe as of good quality. From this developed two meanings particularly:
    • 'to do with British (earlier (before the Act of Union 170) English) money, as in the pound sterling and similar postpositive adjectival uses
    • 'of fine quality', as in sterling silver, a degree of fineness (92½% pure) of silver. This has been extended to indicate a degree of absolute quality in many human attributes, such as 'sterling courage' or even, in its most basic usage 'sterling qualities', 'Sterling worth'.
Etymological note: sterling is probably ("[t]he most plausible explanation", OED, 19116) formed from OE steorling, '[the coin with] a little star', According to Kit Dawnay ('A history of sterling' in the Daily Telegraph. 08/10/2008), "the name stuck, linked to the meaning of 'ster' in old German - strong, pure, stable, reliable, or excellent [AWE hasn't been able to confirm this]. English silver was held in esteem and that respect was worth keeping."
  • Stirling is a proper noun, the name of an ancient town (now a city) in Scotland. Several settlements in the former British Empire were named after it (some indirectly, as for the Earl of Stirling, and Admiral Sir James Stirling (1791–1865), first governor of Western Australia (1828–38). The root of the name is not known: it may be a relic of tha name of the river Forth in a pre-Gauelic and pre-Anglo-Saxon language, Stirling's importance being partly due to its position at the last major ford before the river broadens into the Firth of Forth.
    • As a proper noun, both Sterling and Stirling have been used as personal names, along with some derivatives. The two spellings are used indiscriminately for both fornames and surnames. Be sure to use the one applicable to the person about whom you are writing. Some bearers of the names that users of AWE may come across are:
      • the Sterling sub-machine gun, made by the Sterling Armaments Company for the British Army, in service from 1953 to1954
      • the actor Sterling Hayden (1916-1986), who made many westerns, appeared in The Godfather (1972) and Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
      • Stirling numbers, permutations and approximation, named for James Stirling (1692-17700) are technical terms in mathematics
      • the Stirling engine,m a macine to maximize efdficiency, was invented by the Reverend Dr Robert Stirling (1790–1878) and developed by him and his brother James (1800–1876), who became a successful builder of steam locomotives
      • the Short Stirling was a heavy bomber used by the RAF during the Second World War, named after the city, like the Lancaster, Manchester and Halifax
      • the prestigious Stirling Prize in architecture is named in mnemory of James Stirling (1926–1992), a distinguished, successful and controversial architect
      • Stirling Moss (1929-), perhaps the most famous British racing driver so far