End of the Line

On June 10, 2015 · 15 Comments

Many longtime Twelve Mile Circle readers probably already guessed that this article that would come next. Immediately after a story about the beginning of the alphabet, naturally one would expect to find one about the end. It became an equally difficult task too, except for the most notable location.

Take a moment to ponder this insect.

Zyzzyx chilensis
Zyzzyx chilensis by Pato Novoa, on Flickr (cc)

Zyzzyx chilensis, a type of sand wasp native to Argentina, Chile, and Peru, gained its name in the 1930’s. Flies would view this creature as particularly nasty and formidable. This wasp had a peculiar habit of laying its eggs on flies, which then hatched and consumed its host parasitically as larvae grew. I thought it sounded pretty gruesome.

Don’t worry, I haven’t gone completely off the deep end just yet. What may seem completely irrelevant actually helps establish context. Every site I examined included Zzyzx (spelled slightly differently than the name of the wasp) as the final entry on any alphabetical list of place names. Actually, it was the only entry. Like Zyzzyx chilensis, it preyed upon the weak and helpless in a parasitic manner as readers will soon see.

Zzyzx, California, USA

Zzyzx by Leif Harboe, on Flickr (cc)

I couldn’t find a definite connection between Zyzzyx chilensis and the settlement of Zzyzx (map) although the timing seemed oddly coincidental. The former Soda Springs became Zzyzx in the 1940’s, during the same basic time period. However I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about it for a couple of reasons. First, every oddball website mentioned Zzyzx so I didn’t have anything new to add. Second, it was a contrived name designed specifically to place it at the end of any alphabetical list. Zzyzx cheated.

A self-proclaimed minister-slash-doctor named Curtis Springer created Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Resort on the western edge of the Mohave desert between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. He promised all sorts of miracle cures and made piles of money. It was a complete fraud including the alleged "hot springs" he heated with a boiler. Springer didn’t even own the land. The government removed him from his desert domain in the 1970’s. After that Zzyzx became the Desert Studies Center for California State University, Fullerton so at least some good came from it. Roadside America had a particularly nice summary.

Everything about Zzyzx was fake including its name. Nonetheless, I couldn’t find any other place that began with a Double-Z, and it will likely remain alone until someone decides to honor ZZ Top.

Beginning with ZY

Żywiec polish beer in Warsaw (Warszawa)
Żywiec polish beer in Warsaw (Warszawa) by Ulf Liljankoski, on Flickr (cc)

I jumped farther down the alphabet for places beginning with ZY. There were several waiting to be found. Żywiec, Poland seemed to be the most significant. It had a population of a little more than thirty thousand and its own brand of beer. The Żywiec Brewery had a nice range of beverages although I couldn’t figure out much because the website was entirely in Polish — not that I’m complaining since it should be in Polish — just that my navigation was less than elegant as I guessed randomly and hoped for cognates.

Zyryanka (map) in the Sakha Republic of Russia also deserved a mention primarily because the 12MC Complete Index Map lacked decent coverage of Russia. I didn’t even know if the Russian name (Зырянка) would be remarkable in its native language or not. Anyway, the settlement apparently dated back to the 1930’s to serve local coal mines, and other than that was probably more notable for its remoteness and frigid temperatures.

Beginning with ZW

Beautiful view of Zwolle at night
Beautiful view of Zwolle at night by Ley, on Flickr (cc)

I didn’t find any ZX places although there were plenty of ZW’s as I worked my way back down the alphabet. There were too many to discuss although here’s a small sampling:

  • Zwönitz, Germany (map): a smallish town in Saxony founding nearly a thousand years ago.
  • Zwolle, Netherlands (map): the Province of Overijssel’s capital city, perhaps the most predominant ZW location with more than 125 thousand residents.
  • Zwicky, Canada (map): an unincorporated area (railway point) in Kootenay Land District, British Columbia

Feel free to nominate your favorites.

On June 10, 2015 · 15 Comments

15 Responses to “End of the Line”

  1. Heh, Zwicky’s just 50 minutes or so from my house (which is a short drive in interior British Columbia terms).

  2. Philip Newton says:

    No, “З” is the ninth letter of the Russian alphabet and fairly far towards the front.

    You’d want something starting with “Я” (Ya) to get something at the end, such as Я́хрома (Yakhroma).

  3. January First-of-May says:

    In the Russian alphabet, last place would go to the name Яя (i.e. Yaya, as in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yaya,_Russia – a town in Kemerovo Oblast).
    There are apparently some towns in foreign countries (such as Yayama, D.R.Congo) which would come after Yaya in the Russian alphabetic ordering, but as far as places within Russia go, Yaya is probably the last (could be some very small village, but it doesn’t seem likely).

    In the English alphabet, judging by the Russian Wikipedia “populated places in alphabetical order” category, the alphabetically last place in Russia would probably be Zyuzya/Зюзя (in Novosibirsk Oblast, population 880). Zyuzyuki/Зюзюки, in Sumy Oblast, Ukraine (population 22), is slightly farther yet, but obviously not on Russian territory.

  4. Glenn says:

    Is the California place called Zzyzk, or Zzyzx? You have it spelled both ways.

  5. Rhodent says:

    This task is complicated by the fact that while pretty much everyone using the Latin alphabet agrees that it begins with A, not everyone agrees on where it ends. For example, as The Basement Geographer noted in the previous post, in Danish and Norwegian Å is considered a separate letter from A and is the last letter of the alphabet, coming after Z, Æ, and Ø. By that reasoning, the last place name alphabetically would probably be the Norwegian village of Åvik ( https://www.google.com/maps/place/%C3%85vik,+Norway/@58.0336895,7.2205496,15z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m2!3m1!1s0x4637847eeb1a9dfb:0xe4282976d7c389e3 ), although that answer isn’t very satisfying to most of us since we view Å as just a variant of A.

    But wait, there’s more. Other languages using the alphabet add different letters at the end as well. Swedish adds (in order) Å, Ä, and Ö. Estonian adds Õ, Ä, Ö, and Ü. Icelandic muddles things even further because it doesn’t have a Z, but after Y it has Ý, Þ, Æ, and Ö. Þ is particularly difficult to factor in, because unlike all the other examples it is truly a completely separate letter, not just a modification of one of the “standard” letters.

    Before 1973 Icelandic did have a Z and it came before Þ, so I would say that Þ has a claim to being a post-Z letter in the alphabet that Å, Æ, and so forth do not. If you accept that reasoning, the last name alphabetically would appear to be Þórshöfn ( https://www.google.com/maps/place/%C3%9E%C3%B3rsh%C3%B6fn,+Iceland/@66.1992296,-15.3332445,16z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x48cc967b3b1e672b:0xe809aaeb4fe07d85 ), a small village of slightly less than 400 people on the northeastern coast. But I can certainly understand if someone didn’t accept that reasoning since the letter Þ only appears in a single language. If you reject that reasoning, then the previously mentioned Żywiec is likely the answer.

    • Scott Surgent says:

      This was very enlightening! A few questions:

      1. In 1973, did the Icelandic government simply do away with “Z” by decree, and how much of an effect did this have on daily life? Furthermore, even if Z was hardly used, why delete it? They could have kept it as an anachronism. We barely use “X” in English, especially to start a word, but we keep it around because it’s quiet and doesn’t ask questions.

      2. With those other letters added in, how does that affect the old “alphabet song” we were taught as children? What are those letters actually named?


      • Rhodent says:

        Yes, the government did away with the letter by decree. Apparently the distinction between /s/ and /z/ was lost long ago in Icelandic. It seems that most people have stopped using the letter (particularly younger people who didn’t enter school until after the letter was deleted), but some older people still use it, and one of the major newspapers still uses it.

        As for the names of the other letters, that’s a little tricky to answer because the names of letters vary from language to language, so even the letters you’re familiar with have different names in Icelandic (for example, A’s name is pronounced “ah”, not “ay”, and R’s name is pronounced “err”, not “arr”). In any case, the names for those letters are as follows:

        Ý – “üfsilawn ee” (Y is “üfsilawn ih”, where “ih” represents the vowel in “it”)
        Þ – “thodn”, where the “dn” is equivalent to the “dden” in “sudden”)
        Æ – “eye” (I’s name is “ih”)
        Ö – “ö” (the sound of “eu” in French “neuf” or the ö in German “öffentlich”)

  6. Lost Owl says:

    Interesting that both Aachen and Zzyzx have hot springs (of a sort).

  7. Jonathan says:

    The title of your blog post gave me the impression that this was going be the last 12MC post!!!!

    That would have been a fitting way to end the blog, but I am eternally grateful that you did not take this route. Many other blogs — geo and otherwise — have run out of gas or morphed into photo-heavy, content-lite click-bait machines. Thank you for staying the course!


    • Oh no! I’ll keep writing as long as I find new ideas… and my never-ending list of possible topics always seems to have about a hundred items on it year-after-year, consistently.

    • January First-of-May says:

      If anything, “photo-heavy, content-lite” probably describes the earliest parts of 12MC better than the recent ones (yes, some topics discussed are rather obscure, narrow, or just generally weird, but that was just as much the case in 2009 as in 2015, if not more so).

      Incidentally, you just reminded me that – at least when I finally get done with my exams this month – I really should write my article attempt on double exclaves some day…

  8. Gary says:

    There is a place down here in Florida that begins with a “Z” – Zephyrhills, a suburb of Tampa. Yes, the bottled water company is headquartered there – the water comes from springs in the area. A name with a ze- in it would not be on the list, but I mentioned it anyway.

  9. Steve Spivey says:

    If you use the ITU phonetic alphabet, you should look for somewhere starting with “zulu”.

    Unfortunately, a search for a “Zulu Hotel” in Quebec didn’t pan out. That would be a great name.

    You could also use the “Z” from the 1927 version, which is “Zululand”, or the 1932-1959 “Zürich”, which are named for actual places.

  10. January First-of-May says:

    Just bought a bottle of Zywiec beer – not for myself, mind you (I don’t like alcohol) – at a small food store in Kaliningrad (again), and remembered this post.
    If I get some free time, the “article” on double exclaves should follow sometime later in August (I remembered several other examples); I’m actually on schedule to visit one of these rare places (the same one I’ve already been to) in a few days (Monday the 10th, I think, though it’s confusing).

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