Police sergeant Joe Friday never actually said "just the facts ma’am" on the vintage television show Dragnet, according to Snopes. Rather, the character played by Jack Webb uttered different lines that were later confused with the classic phrase now erroneously attributed to the show.
A similar confusion surrounded the suffix "-fax" appended to surnames and place names, and also to surnames that later became place names. -Fax had an interesting etymology as described in Wiktionary and in other sources:
It also noted cognates that existed in Dutch, German, Norwegian, Icelandic and Sanskrit generally translating to something like hair, head of hair, mane, and so on.
This might lead one to conclude that English place names ending in -fax might have something to do with hair. Those theories certainly existed with frequency, with some substantiated, some wrong and some uncertain, not unlike Joe Friday sort-of uttered his famous catchphrase using different words. A second title for this article — since I’m in the mood for bad puns — might have been, "Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow."
I focused on four -fax place names that traced to England. I’d be interested to know if there were more, and particularly, their etymologies.
Fairfax, Virginia, USA
I was sensitized to Fairfax right away because it was both a county and an embedded independent city in Virginia just outside of Washington, DC, and quite near where I live. Longtime readers might recall my epic journey to the City of Fairfax highpoint, the so-called Water Tower Tour a number of years ago.
Fairfax had the cleanest history, etymology and past association with hair. County and city were both named for Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, the county earning its name during the colonial era and the city afterwards. In this instance the peerage was named for the surname so one must start there. I’ll help readers avoid a pile of sleazy baby-naming pages and sketchy genealogy websites peddling advertisements and skip directly to an etymological dictionary. Fairfax meant "fair haired." The million-plus residents of Fairfax, Virginia can decide whether that confers some kind of exalted level of status upon them or not.
Nearly every Colfax was located in the United States, and many traced their naming origin to Schuyler Colfax, the scandal-plagued Vice President who served under President Grant during his first administration (1869-1873).
One such Colfax town named for him, the one in Louisiana, had particular historical significance.
Colfax Massacre, Colfax, Louisiana, USA
As described by the Public Broadcasting Service,
The other side of the story, as noted by an article in the New Pittsburgh Courier Online, was reflected by an historical marker placed outside the Grant Parish Courthouse in Colfax in 1950. The marker stated, "On this site occurred the Colfax Riot in which three white men and 150 negroes were slain. This event on April 13, 1873 marked the end of carpet bag misrule in the South." To be fair, the nation was undergoing racial turbulence during the 1950′s and the marker reflected certain sentiments of that period. Nonetheless the marker hasn’t been removed either (street view image).
American Surnames discussed two possible etymologies for Colfax. From German, Kohlfuchs referred to a specified color for horses, "dark sorrell or liver chestnut," with the fuchs part referring specifically "a very dark red." Alternately, from Old German, it could refer to the previously-noted hairy explanation. I couldn’t find anything definitive either way.
I worked hard to make sure I didn’t make any typographic errors on that last paragraph! This is a family-friendly website.
Unlike Fairfax, the Halifax peerage derived from a place name rather than a surname. The original underlying Halifax used both for the earldom and the primary North American locations was Halifax in West Yorkshire, England.
Halifax, West Yorkshire, England, UK
Legends floated across the Intertubes about how Halifax descended from "holy hair" with some fanciful tale about a pious virgin who was executed and her hair displayed in public. The explanation had fallen out of favor though, making way for a much more mundane theory about how it may have derived "from the Old English halh-gefeaxe, meaning an ‘area of coarse grass in the nook of land.‘"
Readers from the United States likely did a double-take after seeing Carfax mention because it’s better known there as a company that bombards viewers relentlessly with advertisements for vehicle history services. No worries, the Carfax reference in England seemed to be completely coincidental.
Carfax Tower by Holly Hayes on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Carfax, a crossroads, marked the central point of Oxford, England. Carfax itself also had a central point, Carfax Tower, the remnants of a medieval church (map). It’s a tourist attraction now and visitors can climb to the top of the tower for panoramic views for a modest fee.
Most sources seemed to believe that Carfax derived from the French carrefore, "a place where four ways meet" and and earlier Latin quadrifurcus, "four-forked." Some earlier sources discounted that etymology largely on the grounds that French place names weren’t common in England, and halfheartedly wondered if hair figured into the etymology. Those theories didn’t seem to reach beyond the 19th Century, though.
Overall, -fax was a mixed bag: one usage likely related to hair; one maybe and two probably not.
What does one call a thousand geo-oddities? Ultimately I decided to use the metric prefix "Kilo," although kilogeooddity and kilooddity both looked clunky with all of those extra vowels. Ultimately I coined the phrase kiloanomaly, equating to units of a thousand objects combining to form singular anomalies. It almost sounded like a Hawaiian word. I liked it!
There were numerous examples of kiloanomalies. I’ll highlight a few of my favorites.
Thousand Oaks, California, USA
The City of Thousand Oaks in California was probably the most well-known urban forest of a thousand oaks that I uncovered, with over 125 thousand residents. There were plenty of others of the same name too, even in California (neighborhoods in Berkeley and San Jose at the very least). I then found Thousand Oaks in Florida, Missouri, and Texas, and a Thousand Oaks golf course in Michigan.
That’s a lot of acorns!
Thousand Islands, USA and Canada
I noted in Just as Enigmatic that the area known as the Thousand Islands on the Saint Lawrence River between Canada and the United States didn’t actually have a thousand islands. Rather, those early explorers must have had a sense of modesty because there were actually 1,864 islands once they were all tallied.
What about Thousand Island (without an "s" after Island) salad dressing? Logically enough, "According to The Oxford Companion of Food and Drink, ‘the name presumably comes from the Thousand Islands between the United States and Canada in the St. Lawrence River.’"
Valley of a Thousand Falls
I learned of a Valley of a Thousand Falls in Mount Robson Provincial Park, in British Columbia, Canada. It’s the area between two small bodies of water, Berg Lake and Kinney Lake, on the map displayed above.
What do a thousand falls look like? I found a short YouTube video that provided a nice preview.
The valley can be accessed from the Berg Lake Trail:
Biogeoclimatic is a great word that I need to add to my vocabulary although I still like kiloanomaly more.
Valley of a Thousand Hills
Valley of a Thousand Hills, South Africa
The second valley with a thousands objects I discovered online was the Valley of a Thousand Hills in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. I wanted to use a better map. Unfortunately, I found it hideously difficult to find a Terrain View option on the new Google Maps and apparently it’s impossible to embed an object in that mode. I’ll provide a link though: (map).
The Valley of a Thousand Hills is a major tourism destination.
It’s centered on the confluence of the Umgeni and Msunduzi (Duzi) Rivers, halfway between Durban and Pietermaritzburg
Thousand Ships Bay
Thousand Ships Bay, Solomon Islands
I found very little on Thousand Ships Bay in the Solomon Islands. It’s located "on the south coast of Santa Isabel Island… between San Jorge Island and Santa Isabel Island." The story goes — and who knows if it’s true — that the label came from "Spanish explorer Mendaña who named the location ‘Thousand Ship Bay’ [because he] believed a thousand ships could fit into the bay." Álvaro de Mendaña y Neira was indeed the first European to see the Solomon Islands in 1568. He named a lot of its individual islands so maybe the story had a grain of truth. However, the explanation seemed pretty lame even if true.
Many centuries later,Thousand Ships Bay was "occasionally used by the Japanese as a seaplane base or temporary ship anchorage from May to August 1942."
A hearty thank you to everyone who read all the way to the end of this post. The very first Twelve Mile Circle entry appeared on November 6, 2007. This is article number 1,000. I hope I’m still motivated to write when it’s time to feature The Land of 10,000 Lakes.
The day I dreaded finally arrived. I was defaulted to the new version of Google Maps yesterday. I wasn’t favorably impressed when I first reviewed it last May and I always understood that the version I’ve used since the creation of Twelve Mile Circle would go away eventually. Sooner-or-later I was going to have to confront this issue.
Allow me to clear a backlog of some short topics with another installment of Odds and Ends while I try to figure out how to use the new version. Hopefully some of my earlier concerns have been addressed.
Mary Carson Breckinridge
Mary Breckinridge Park, Confluence, Kentucky
I noticed a little park in Kentucky as I searched for various places named Confluence while leading up to the Confluence of Confluences article. Mary Breckinridge Memorial Park, also known as the Confluence Recreation Area, caught my eye. Who was Mary Breckinridge and how did she earn a memorial park, I wondered?
It was a fascinating story that I’d hoped to turn into a full article, although I couldn’t figure out how to approach it. Mary Carson Breckinridge, as I learned was part of THE Breckinridge family:
Breckenridge, Colorado and its famous ski resort? Yes, named for the same family, even if spelled slightly differently. The family name and its influence spread far-and-wide across the United States.
Mary Carson Breckinridge took a different path, leveraging her family prestige and pedigree towards public service. She grew up privileged. She was also educated by private tutors and in exclusive schools both in the United States and in Europe. After personal tragedies during her early adulthood, she turned to nursing, helping to comfort victims of the 1918 influenza pandemic and then
This evolved into the Frontier Nursing Service and the Frontier Nursing University, providing health care and educating nurse-midwives in an under-served corner of Appalachia. Hyden, Kentucky, the base of her operations and home of the current Mary Breckinridge Hospital, was just just down the road from Confluence and the little park named in her remembrance.
Tour de Odd
I’m thinking about organizing a casual bicycle ride between several Washington, DC area geo-oddities sometime this spring or summer. Sites would include stops at the American Meridian, various practical exclaves, an original boundary stone and the little chunk of Washington, DC crossed by the famous Beltway which is displayed in the photograph above (and see map).
Members of the 12MC audience who might be interested in joining me — the potential out and back is displayed above — should feel free to contact me offline. The route is nearly flat, almost at sea-level, and provides amazing panoramic views of the monuments. I’ll let anyone interested know more as I work out the details and the weather warms up.
Ontario, California, not Canada
Twitter user @colourcountry mentioned the interesting situation of Ontario, California which comes remarkably close (in name) to Ontario, Canada. The postal code for California is CA and the top-level Internet domain for Canada is ca. There’s all sort of potential for trouble or confusion going in either direction. He also noted a similar issue with Trinidad, Colorado (CO) and Trinidad, Colombia, Colombia (co). Are there other instances?
That also reminded me of how far I’ve fallen behind on user mail. My apologies to all of you who have sent story suggestions. I’ll try to get to them as soon as I can.
Accident, Maryland, USA
Speaking of user suggestions, reader Kevin mentioned his fascination with the town of Accident in Maryland. He noted that visitors would be accidental tourists, and that the town had a "South North street and a North South Street." It’s true!
How did Accident get its name? The Town of Accident said:
Right. It sounds apocryphal to me too.