If you’re inclined to spend $100,000 or more for a fully loaded urban tank, Range Rover has just the thing for you: its new Velar SUV.
Picky people will point out that it’s Tata Motors’ Jaguar Land Rover Range Rover Velar. (Jaguar Land Rover has been a wholly owned subsidy of Mumbai-based Tata Motors since 2008. Tata Motors is a subsidiary of the Tata Group, founded by the marvelously named Ratan Tata.) But that’s a mouthful, and what I’m really interested in – as are you, I’m guessing – is the new name: Velar.
I’m going to spoil the fun a little bit by revealing the official pronunciation: ve-LAR. But any association with Spanish volar and Italian volare – both of which mean “to fly” and are stressed on the second syllable – is purely coincidental. Velar comes from a different Latin source: velare, to hide or cover. It’s the same root that gives us veil, voile (a sheer fabric), and an anatomical term that I’ll get to in a moment.
According to an article in the Telegraph (UK), the Velar name has been part of internal Range Rover nomenclature for decades. In fact, it predates the Range Rover brand:
In the late 1960s, Land Rover was working in earnest on its new project, which would go on to become to the Range Rover. It was relatively hush-hush – it was to be the first vehicle of its type ever made, and the Rover Company didn't want the world to know about it. Early prototypes are easy enough to keep quiet about, but as the model matured, it became imperative to obfuscate its true identity. Thus, the Velar was born.
Specifically, Velar of Croydon. This pretend car manufacturer provided the perfect cover under which to develop the then-new Range Rover.
So why 'Velar'? Well, the word is first-person singular present indicative of the Latin verb velare, which means to hide – as any fule kno. But it can't be a coincidence that the word uses letters that were already present in the Land Rover factory, and that engineers are prone to taking the most efficient route.
The new 2017 Range Rover Velar is a far cry from the boxy-but-beautiful, body-on-frame, utilitarian 4x4 of yesteryear. But it's very plausible that it's inherited a name from a simpler time, when cars were named not by branding consultants, but by oily engineers plundering the workshop's parts bin.
That story must not have circulated widely, because the linguists I follow have been publicly amused and bemused by the Velar name. The source of their bemusement: “velar” is a term in linguistics (and anatomy) that refers to sounds made by pressing the back of the tongue against the soft palate, or velum – literally, a covering membrane.
Velum is unrelated to vellum, which originally referred to parchment made from calfskin. (Double-L vellum is related to veal.) Velar sounds in English include the g in good and the k and ng in king.
The Language Log blog had some fun with the Velar name last weekend. “I wonder if the Uvular will be next,” wrote one correspondent. “Somebody must have found the name palatable,” wrote another. “How does it handle glottal stops?” queried a third.
Naturally, there was a digression into the fallacious story about the Chevy Nova, which I consider it my mission in life to refute.