Small Change, Big Difference

On February 25, 2015 · 11 Comments

It struck me that Cheyenne (the capital city of the U.S. state of Wyoming) and Cayenne (the capital city of the French overseas department of Guyane française) sounded remarkably similar in name. Yet, as locations go they couldn’t have been much more dissimilar even though they were separated by only a couple of letters and a slight voice inflection.

The Old West came to mind when I thought of Cheyenne.

Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo 2014-8
Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo 2014-8 by enjoiskate8, on Flickr (cc)

Cheyenne’s name derived from Native Americans of Algonquian origin that migrated across the Great Plains in the 19th Century. Today they are located in Montana (Northern Cheyenne Nation) and Oklahoma (Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribes). The etymology wasn’t entirely clear. Many believed that the name came from a Dakota Sioux phrase for the Cheyenne that was adopted by incoming settlers of European descent. It also seemed like a fine name for a town when those same settlers began rolling into Wyoming in force and platted a village in 1867.

The city of Cheyenne grew and prospered enough to become the capital of Wyoming in 1890 at statehood. Nonetheless, Wyoming remained largely rural, with open countryside dotted by cattle ranches, cowboys and romantic notions along those lines.

Cayenne, on the other hand, settled as it was on coastal South America, absorbed a decidedly equatorial flavor like the fiery red hot pepper named for it.

Cayenne, Carnival 2013 (1)
Cayenne, Carnival 2013 (1) by Andrea Privitera, on Flickr (cc)

Etymologically, Cayenne derived from Guyana, a name for the larger geographic region on the northeastern edge of the continent. In turn, Guyana likely came from an indigenous term for "land of many waters." Interestingly both Cheyenne and Cayenne had their basis in indigenous New World languages although their similarity would have to be coincidental since their language families were completely different.

The Game

I turned it into a little game. I began a brief quest to see if I could discover any other geographic designations substantially similar in pattern or pronunciation while remarkably distinct in just about every other respect. I found another good one. How about Dallas, Texas and Đà Lạt, Vietnam? Those two places would seem to exhibit tremendous differences.

Pioneer Park Cattle Drive
Pioneer Park Cattle Drive by Mike Desisto, on Flickr (cc)

I returned to the cattle and cowboy theme for Dallas. Then maybe added a few oil wells, made the cattle a longhorn, threw in a dash of J.R. Ewing, and maybe some barbeque sauce along with a few more selected cultural stereotypes. Compare that with…

Linh Son Pagoda
Linh Son Pagoda by Samson_Cheong_Kok_Chun, on Flickr (cc)

… Asian culture, Buddhist temples and rice paddies. Thus, Đà Lạt was about as far away from Dallas in every manner imaginable except alphabetically so that should be a pretty high score. If I was keeping score.

That’s how the game was played.

Some Other Examples

I spent more time than I’d care to admit trying to come up with other meaningful pairs. Some were vaguely clever and some were completely absurd.

  • Giza vs. Pisa: Considerably different although they both featured iconic structures; pyramids in the first instance and a leaning tower in the latter.
  • New York vs. Newark: Residents of those respective locales would likely argue that they shouldn’t be confused, however their differences didn’t approach anything like North America vs. Asia.
  • Santiago vs. San Diego: Here my creativity began to wane. The two didn’t sound all that much alike.
  • Paris vs. Ferris: Well, that was definitely a stretch. Ferris was a town in Texas with 2,500 residents. I hardly considered that a household name so this one began to look like desperation on my part. It got worse.
  • Manila vs. Vanilla. Now I’m joking of course although there actually was a Vanilla in Pennsylvania according to GNIS (at 39.7781488°, -77.8505523°). I included this one only because I thought Manila folders were called Vanilla folders when I was a kid. In my defense those folders did seem to have the correct approximate color, kind of a milky tan/yellow like the ice cream. It took me years to figure out that I was butchering the name.

That was fun although I ran out of ideas. This is where the Twelve Mile Circle audience can get involved. Please feel free to be creative and suggest better alternatives. I wonder if there are any triple examples?


On January 21, 2015 · 0 Comments

The word "bogus" had a murky history. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, it may have dated back as far as 1827, used in Ohio as a slang term for a counterfeiter’s apparatus. It was the name of a machine used to manufacture fake coins. Bogus came to mean counterfeit or fake in a more general sense, and alternately disappointing or unfair.

Some trace this to tantrabobus, also tantrabogus, a late 18c. colloquial Vermont word for any odd-looking object, in later 19c. use; "the devil," which might be connected to tantarabobs, recorded as a Devonshire name for the devil.

Supposing that, it might share a common origin with bogey which is known more familiarly as the root of bogeyman. A bogus bogeyman would be a strange contradiction, however.

It will reveal both my relative age and my level of maturity (or lack thereof) if I mention that bogus appeared prominently in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989). As in,

Evil Duke: Put them in the iron maiden.
Ted: Iron Maiden?
Bill, Ted: Excellent!
[air guitar]
Evil Duke: Execute them.
Bill, Ted: Bogus!

Apparently there was also a sequel called Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991). I never watched that one. Not every sequel can be like The Godfather Part II and the original Bill & Ted’s certainly wasn’t The Godfather. Keanu Reeves (Ted) of course went on to bigger and better roles. Alex Winter (Bill), well, hopefully he invested wisely and is leading a nice life somewhere.

That was quite a roundabout tangent even for 12MC. Hopefully it provided the necessary context to appreciate the absurdity of places named Bogus.

Bogus Basin, Idaho

Bogus Basin Panorama
Bogus Basin Panorama by Jim Larson, on Flickr (cc)

Bogus spots were confined almost entirely to the United States. I’m not surprised given the origin of the word. I first came across such a Bogus place when I traveled to Boise, Idaho a number of years and noticed references to the Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area. It was founded by a nonprofit organization "established by the Boise community in 1942." Its a ski resort operated by local interests, with 53 runs and a vertical rise of 1800 feet (550 metres).

Bogus Basin (map) came by the name honestly. It actually referred to fakery. The hills gleamed with gold, or more accurately gold-colored pyrite or "fools gold." There were tales of people who believed they’d found gold only to be disappointed after investing in mines. There were other stories of nefarious swindlers and their dirty tricks designed to defraud people. The Boise City Department of Arts and History mentioned,

Bogus Basin got its name from a group of con-artists in the late 1800s who created fake gold dust in the same area as the Bogus Basin recreation area. These con-artists would melt silver, sand and a small amount of gold and sell it for $14 an ounce.

Bogus Basin was a strange name for a ski resort albeit one with genuine historical roots.

Bogus Brook Township, Minnesota

Bogus Brook, Mille Lacs Co., Minnesota, USA

Bogus Brook Township in Mille Lacs (thousand lakes) County in Minnesota sounded promising. Indeed, a stream named Bogus Brook (map) ran directly through the township. It seemed strange that the township selected Bogus Brook for its name when the Rum River, a much larger body of water also ran through it. Maybe residents didn’t want to live in a place named for demon rum.

Actually the Rum River became rather controversial in recent years, leading to an organized name-change movement. The Lakota named the river Wahkon originally, the Great Spirit River, and it was considered a sacred body of water. Settlers of European descent thought it might be clever to create a pun by using spirit in the sense of alcohol and renamed it Rum River. Native inhabitants considered that usage insulting and profane.

Bogus Brook was probably a better choice for the township.

Bogus Elementary School, Montague, California

Imagine attending Bogus Elementary School in California (map). It seemed like the name might be a liability although the school sounded pretty interesting:

Is your child lost in a large class size? Bogus Elementary School has one classroom, one teacher, and 12 students… All children get to participate in our winter ski/snow board program for free.

There were a number of Bogus features nearby including Bogus Mountain, Bogus Creek and Bogus Burn. Any one of those could have inspired the Bogus name for a school. I also noticed it was located near one of those checkerboard patterns, which wasn’t particularly germane to this article, just an interesting fact I noticed along the way.

I found only three Bogus places outside of the United States, all in Canada: Lac Bogus in Québec (map); Bogus Lake in Ontario (map); and Bogus Hole in Nova Scotia (map). Information was scarce. The most prominent mention of a Bogus lake in Ontario led to "Lake Ontario Shark Video Is Just As Fake As It Looks." It reminded me of I Call Bull Shark.

I think it’s time to revive the word tantrabogus.

Few Remain

On December 7, 2014 · 1 Comments

It had been a long time since I checked the visitor logs for new readers arriving from countries that had not ever landed on the pages of Twelve Mile Circle previously. I’d pretty much given up on that specific pursuit after tracking seven years of 12MC, figuring I’d already received what I was going to get. Nonetheless I checked the other day, the first time in more than a year, and I found a few new arrivals. That surprised me. Truly, I think this might have to be the last roundup of national representation though. The visitor map has only tiny holes remaining in it from places that are quite likely to be long-term holdouts like North Korea and such.


Niamey, Niger
Niamey, Niger by LenDog64, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Niger, a landlocked nation in north Africa that uses French and indigenous languages, wouldn’t seem to be high on the list of places that might be interested in content from Twelve Mile Circle. That was indeed the case. Its seventeen million citizens had bigger concerns than an English-language website focused on geo-oddities: "Niger ranked 186th and last in the 2013 Human Development Index of the United Nations Development Programme, with 76 per cent of its people living on less than US$2 a day." Nonetheless, after several years of tracking traffic, I found someone living in Niger who had a burning question. He or she sought information about the Lowest Elevation in Nepal and it filled a big blank spot on my map. Now if I could just convince someone to arrive from the Central African Republic…

Republic of the Congo

08 Kongo - 463
08 Kongo – 463 by Prince Tanzi, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

I had a similar issue with the Republic of the Congo. On the other hand, I’ve never had any problem attracting visitors from its confusingly-named neighbor, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire). They had some similarities both with their geographic placement and with their use of French as an official language (albeit one a former colony of France and the other of Belgium). Their primary divergence for my purposes likely occurred due to population. The Republic had fewer than five million citizens while the Democratic Republic had closer to seventy-five million. That right there would seem to explain why I’ve hosted 9 visitors from the DRC over the history of the site and, well, now one visitor from the Republic. That person landed on a very logical page about National Capitals Closest Together. Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo are one of the better pairs of cities that address the question. This seemed to also prove the point that I’ll get a visitor from an obscure location eventually if I write about it.

Maybe I should write something about Pyongyang. Then again, maybe I should just let that visit from North Korea arrive organically.


Soufriere Hills Volcano, Montserrat Island (NASA, International Space Station Science, 10/11/09)
Soufriere Hills Volcano, Montserrat Island (NASA, International Space Station Science, 10/11/09)
by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The other two locations hailed from a completely different part of the world, the Caribbean. Twelve Mile Circle actually does quite well with visitors from the tropical islands there because of my Caribbean Ferries page. Not only do I get a lot of visitors from cold weather countries seeking potential vacation ideas, I capture a lot of traffic directly from people already on the islands. I’d never had a visitor from Montserrat though. That was due to a geological quirk, I am sure. This British Overseas Territory was rocked by the eruption of the Soufrière Hills volcano in 1995. It destroyed the capital city, Plymouth, and forced most of the island’s inhabitants to flee. Only a few thousand people live on Montserrat today and much of the island remains off limits as part of a strictly enforced "exclusion zone." The volcano remains active and it’s a constant threat.

Saint Barthélemy

Toiny, St. Barth
Toiny, St. Barth by Charlievdb, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

I’m not sure what happened with St. Barths. I’d never had a visitor from there before and then I recorded 14 visitors over the last year. This was likely a delayed counting issue arising from changes in political status. Saint Barthélemy and Saint Martin were part of the French overseas department of Guadeloupe until 2007. The two are now separate overseas collectives of France and thus are tracked as distinct entities by Google Analytics. Oddly, I’ve been recording Saint Martin hits for years and St. Barths only recently. I guess it took Google awhile to get its act together on that subject. Of course I’m sure I’d been receiving traffic from St. Barths all along although it was aggregated within Guadeloupe.

I May Have to Give Up on Antarctica

The greatest strength of 12MC is the collective knowledge and connections of its readers. Through all of you, I’ve been able to establish connections with people who have been stationed in Antarctica. It appears that telecommunications to and from Antarctica register as traffic from whatever host nation provides the link (e.g., New Zealand, Argentina). Even though Antarctica has its own country code top-level domain (.aq) it’s probably not going to show up that way in my reader logs, which is unfortunate.

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