Insignificant Synonyms

On August 19, 2014 · 2 Comments

I considered synonyms and euphemisms for small, inconsequential places. Sometimes they even found their way into Twelve Mile Circle articles. Those wouldn’t be real places, right? They were just generic terms for middle of nowhere spots where nothing every happened and nothing ever would for the remaining history of the known universe. Or were they?

Podunk


at Aiken and Podunk
at Aiken and Podunk by Matt Moritz, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

I’ve always been partial to Podunk. I’m sure my opinion had a geographic and cultural component. I’d likely favor some other term if I grew-up elsewhere.

The Podunk were a Native American people of Algonquian origin that inhabited an area that later became the modern towns of East Hartford, East Windsor, South Windsor, Manchester and smaller parts of other towns in Connecticut.

Podunk or Pautunke, means "where you sink in mire", a boggy place, in the Nipmuc dialect… The Podunk tribe consisted of three bands: the Namferoke (Podunk, "fishing place"), who lived near the village of Warehouse Point; the Hockanum (Podunk, "a hook", or "hook shaped"), led by Tantonimo, who lived near the village still known as Hockanum; and the Scanticook (Nipmuc, "at the river fork"), who lived on the north bank of the Scantic River near the section called Weymouth.

There were various locales and features named Podunk, primarily in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York. The photograph of Aiken and Podunk came from Trumansburg, New York, in the Finger Lakes Region (map).

I was gratified to see that fellow geo-oddity aficionado Steve who writes Connecticut Museum Quest mentioned Podunk in several articles. Clearly, he was no stranger to Podunk.



Podunk, Connecticut

While the Podunk people occupied a sizable geography, the Geographic Names Information System identified a specific point as Connecticut’s current Podunk. It might have been possibly the only location we didn’t visit on the epic Connecticut Extremes tour a couple of years ago.


East Bumf**k

This section brings immaturity to a new level. No offense is intended. Some readers with delicate sensibilities might be advised to skip to the next one.


Awesome @globalrallyx racing @nhms tonight. Next week is Bristol! @bmsupdates
New Hampshire Motor Speedway by Jose Castillo, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

Speaking of euphemisms, readers will simply have to add the appropriate letters for the two asterisks in Bumf**k on their own. This is a family-friendly website. I’ve used East Bumf**k on occasion verbally, or Bumblef**k which is another entertaining variation. I can’t say I’ve referred to Bumf**k Egypt personally although I know that one is fairly common too. Seriously though, would anyone name a place Bumf**k? Well, no. There’s still hope for this world.

I had to check though. The 12MC audience would have been disappointed if I hadn’t at least given it a shot. I found something almost as bewildering and inexplicable in GNIS.



Bumfagging Hill, New Hampshire

Others discovered this little gem long ago, including one gentleman who hiked to the summit of Bumfagging Hill. One of the people who commented on his feat speculated that it… "derives from ‘bumfeg,’, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as an (obsolete) humorous synonym for ‘to flog, thrash.’ Maybe the colonists flogged their laundry up there, or thrashed miscreants." It sounded plausible enough to me.

In that case Bumfagon Brook (map), also in New Hampshire, likely had a similar etymology. I wonder how all of those NASCAR fans at New Hampshire Motor Speedway felt about their uncomfortably close proximity to Bumfagon Brook as they hooted and hollered for the next wreck?


Hicksville


The train to Hicksville
The train to Hicksville by Mashthetics, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

I wasn’t sure why Hicksville (map) became a generic term for an unsophisticated hamlet far removed from civilization. Hicksville in New York had a population of greater than forty thousand residents at the 2010 Census — hardly insignificant — and a median household income of $91,331 per year.

According to "The City in Slang",

Several names for small towns just extend epithets for provincial people, usually forming them with the suffixes -ville, -town, and -burg… the use of hicksville in New York was surely reinforced by the fact that the real city of Hicksville (an utterly coincident name) was nearby on Long Island.

That made sense.


A Few More

GNIS included entries and lat/long coordinates for all of the following places or features aligning with the theme:

  • Jerkwater, Pennsylvania (map)
  • Flyspeck Waterhole, Oregon (map)
  • One Horse, Arkansas (map)
  • Boondock Tank, Arizona (map)
  • Sticks, Pennsylvania (map)
  • The Backwaters, Indiana (map)

As some might say, "Thank God we live in this quiet, little pissant, redneck, podunk, jerkwater, greenhorn, one-horse, mudhole, peckerwood, right-wing, whistle-stop, hobnail, truck-driving, old-fashioned, hayseed, inbred, unkempt, out-of-date, white trash mountain town!"

Cactus

On August 14, 2014 · 2 Comments

The previous article about Spanish punctuation embedded in various place names in the United States made my mind wander to the desert southwest, which led me down a mental tangent related to cacti for some unknown reason. As I daydreamed, I considered, perhaps I should examine places named cactus. There weren’t many, and even the larger ones seemed rather obscure and perhaps even a tad unusual just as we like it here on Twelve Mile Circle.

Cactus, Texas



How many towns had their own signature song? Large cities often attracted musical attention although the level of interest generally waned proportionally farther down the population tally. Yet, Waylon Jennings recorded "Cactus Texas" in 1996. Why Cactus? Maybe for the same reason the name attracted me; I thought of tumbleweeds and dust. Only an overlooked community on an arid plain could ever do justice to the Cactus name. Feel free to turn the music on in the background as I take a look around town.

The Handbook of Texas from the Texas State Historical Association included an entry on this particular Cactus (map).

It began as a company town to produce ammunition for World War II. The Cactus Ordnance Works, one of the largest plants in the county, was established there as a government project by the Chemical Construction Company in May 1942… the cactus and other prickly plants were cleared, and huge dormitories were hastily erected to house construction workers.

Cactus fared worse after the war although various companies continued to produce a range of chemicals at the old ordnance works until the early 1980′s. The population shrank to a few hundred people for a time although it rebounded to about 3,200 residents — larger than ever — by the 2010 Census.


Cactus Springs, Nevada


The Temple of Goddess Spirituality Dedicated to Sekhmet
The Temple of Goddess Spirituality Dedicated to Sekhmet by Chris M Morris, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

Cactus Springs (map) could be considered just another isolated settlement in an otherwise empty desert except for The Temple of Goddess Spirituality Dedicated to Sekhmet. It sprang from the creativity of a single individual, Genevieve Vaughn,

Highway 95 runs down the middle of the flat Mojave Desert valley in Nevada. Driving east from Beatty, the tiny oasis of Cactus Springs is the first inhabitable spot for sixty miles. It was at this site in 1993 that I dedicated a temple to the Goddess Sekhmet. I feel blessed to be able to give a gift to a goddess who for centuries has not had temples built in her honor.

The full account can be found at Herstory of Sekhmet Temple in Nevada.


Cactus Flat, South Dakota


Giant prairie dog, Ranch Store Gift Shop, Badlands, SD
Giant prairie dog, Ranch Store Gift Shop, Badlands, SD by Brian Butko, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Cactus Flat, spelled F-L-A-T according to the Geographic Names Information System, although frequently rendered in its plural form, clung to the edge of South Dakota’s Badlands. Places that survived out there often sustained themselves by finding a gimmick to attract tourists heading into the nearby park in the hallowed tradition of Wall Drug. Cactus Flat had its own scaled-down Wall Drug knock-off, The Ranch Store of the Badlands.

The feature event at The Ranch Store is the same as it was fifty years ago – a large prairie dog colony to the north of the store, where one can walk among the dogs and toss them a snack of unsalted peanuts. Standing fortress to the entire colony is, of course, the six-ton Prairie Dog.

Thus a giant prairie dog (map) came to define diminutive Cactus Flat.


Cactus Beach, South Australia



Cacti may be native to the Americas(¹) although an inconvenient geography couldn’t prevent the name from appearing in unexpected corners elsewhere. I found Cactus Beach (map) in South Australia. It was reputed to be one of the best surfing destinations available.

Cactus itself was actually called Point Sinclair and was given its current name by the first guys who drove up there, looking for surf. Well, when they first saw it, the surf was pretty poor and someone said, ‘this place is cactus!’ meaning no good and boy, how wrong they were, as Cactus is now regarded as one of the best breaks in Oz!

I’m almost afraid to mention Cactus Beach and let people know it exists. A recent news report said,

The waves at Cactus Beach were only discovered in the 1960s, but it has been a prickly issue ever since. Some locals have been trying to keep the secret to themselves. Directions are difficult to find, with signs pointing to the beach being scrubbed off and the more recently torn down.

So don’t go there to surf. Just note the succulents and move on.


(¹) Cacti are native to the Americas with the exception of a single species, Rhipsalis baccifera, more commonly called the Mistletoe Cactus. That’s your trivia for the day.

Geography

Officially Tilde

On August 12, 2014 · 5 Comments

I received a message recently from a 12MC reader in Cañon City, Colorado. I couldn’t help noticing the tilde, the little squiggle over the letter "ñ." That of course was punctuation used in Spanish, not English, so it caught my attention. Very few places in the United States included diacritical marks recognized officially by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names. Most of those disappeared at least a century ago as the Board worked to Anglicize, standardize and expunge foreign-appearing names.

Nonetheless I checked the Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) and it included a number of places with the "Cañ-" prefix, often in Puerto Rico as one might expect along with many others in southwestern states that were once part of México, and before that part of Spain. I discovered various other appearances of the tilde-n and placed a representative sample of the more significant towns onto a simple map.



View Officially Tilde in a larger map

The Spanish caña derived from Latin, canna, meaning cane or reed. Water would flow through a hollow cane much like water would carve deep narrow slots through rock. Thus a Cañon could be thought of as a big cane, which seemed appropriate as I thought about it awhile. Eventually English-speaking people came to the area and we ended up with a bunch of canyons instead of cañones. Only a few place names retained or later reverted back to the older form including settlements like Cañon City.

Many different sites traced the official loss of Cañon City’s tilde to a 1906 Board decision and its reversal in 1994. I looked through a few sources to confirm the claims. The tilde existed in 1879 as the predominant usage, along with Canon City less frequently. The 1906 Decision referenced by various publications noted bluntly, "Canyon city and RR station Fremont county Colo Not Cañon City." Later the 1994 Decision did indeed include the tilde.


Doña Ana


Dona Ana County Line
Doña Ana County Line by Jimmy Emerson, DVM, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Doña Ana also came to mind as I pondered the tilde. Doña Ana became a New Mexico county in 1852. Doña was a term of respect reserved for the lady of the house, from the Latin domus (house). Doña Ana would be something like Mrs. Anna in English. That led me to wonder about this particular Doña named Ana, and what she must have done to merit a county named in her honor.

Nobody knew for certain although she appeared to be a figure from the 17th Century when the territory belonged to Spain. Most sources including a New Mexico Historical Marker identified her as Doña Ana Robledo, a particularly generous and charitable woman of the time. The Place Names of New Mexico offered a competing albeit somewhat more pedestrian and probably more realistic theory; "…a more likely eponymn was one Doña Ana María de Córdoba, whose ranch was located here."

The tilde disappeared and reappeared from Doña Ana, too. I consulted several maps from the latter part of the 19th Century. Sometimes they used the tilde and sometimes they did not. The reappearance continued even recently. The US Census Bureau had to add the tilde for the 2010 Census, as an example.


A Few Others

Other place names included:

  • Española, New Mexico (feminine form of español, a female Spaniard)
  • Peñasco, New Mexico (large elevated rock, e.g., rocky point)
  • Rancho Peñasquitos, California (little rocks; little cliffs)
  • Cañones, New Mexico (more than one Cañon)
  • La Cañada Flintridge, California (more like a glen or ravine than a Cañon)

I did my best with those translations. Any Spanish-speaking readers should feel free to offer clarifications and corrections. The tilde made a big difference in that last usage too. Drop the diacritical mark and it would be Canada, a completely different etymology for a completely different location.

La Cañada Canada would be a great name for a Mexican restaurant in Toronto, though.

Geography

Purpose
12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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