Spit

On June 26, 2014 · 2 Comments

I’ve certainly featured spits of land on 12MC before. They’ve come up in the context of Shingle Spits and in a very specialized sense in one of my favorite geographic forms, the always wonderful tombolo. I was able to visit a particularly nice example of a spit in Homer, on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. I’ve discussed their formation by a process called longshore drift in an earlier article so I won’t go into detail about that either.



Homer Spit in Homer, Alaska (my own photo)

Rather, I became a lot more curious about the name. Why spit? The whole notion of spit — the saliva kind — seemed a bit unsettling. Maybe the two could have a common etymology, I pondered. Spit could be expelled from one’s mouth, and a sand spit could seem to be expelled from a nearby landmass in a similar fashion. It appeared somewhat plausible if a bit vulgar.

Fortunately the Intertubes included sources such as the Online Etymology Dictionary that I could consult for such burning questions and curiosities. I took a look at spit, well in its written form not in its literal form of course. The saliva version came from the Old English spittan, similar to spew. It may have had an imitative origin as well, an onomatopoeia, sounding a lot like what it described. How pleasant.

Spit, the landform, may have derived from late Old English spitu, coming down from from Proto-Germanic and before that Proto-Indo-European, meaning a sharp point. A related usage would apply if one cooked meat on a spit. The word spike also fit here.

It appeared that two similarly-sounding words with different etymologies eventually converged. That was interesting for about thirty seconds. Let’s take a look at a few spits I’ve selected somewhat randomly because I found an answer quicker than I expected and I still have a lot of room left in this article.


Arabat Spit



Arabat Spit, Crimea

I decided to highlight the Arabat Spit on the Sea of Azov for a couple of reasons. First, it was considered the longest sand spit in the world at 110 kilometres (68 miles). That in itself was sufficient justification. Second, it became a part of disputed territory with the Russian annexation of Crimea in March 2014. Was it part of Ukraine? Was it part of the Russian Federation? I won’t wade into that morass except to note its superlative size and peculiar situation. This is not a political blog.


Inch Strand, Ireland


Inch Beach
Inch Beach by Jim, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

Spits can exist anywhere longshore drift takes hold. The process often created great beaches, as happened at Inch Strand (or Inch Beach) on the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland (map). An inch would seem to be an unsuitable unit of measurement for this sizable sandy expanse so I’ll assume it came down from something Gaelic. I featured this spot solely because I hope to travel onto the Dingle Peninsula later this summer, and if so, maybe I’ll stop at Inch and take a photograph for the 12MC horde.


Sandspit Beach, Pakistan


Sandspit, Karachi
Sandspit, Karachi by Hemanshu Kumar, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Finally I had to mention Sandspit Beach outside of Karachi, Pakistan along Hawke’s Bay on the Arabian Sea (map). As one source noted, "One thing unique about these waters which you won’t find in any part of the world are the horse and camel rides." I’m sure there were many other places where one could ride a horse on a spit (I even saw that happening on the Homer Spit) so the camel would be the thing that made it special. Did that make Sandspit Beach unique? Where there other spits with camel rides? Do the camels spit on people, as camels sometimes do? Who knows. Let’s proclaim it as if its all true and have the Intertubes work it out.

I confess that I featured Sandspit Beach for a completely different reason. I wanted to add a Pakistan push-pin to the 12MC Complete Index map. Unbelievably, until today, after more than a thousand articles, the Twelve Mile Circle had never focused a single topic on Pakistan. Today was your lucky day, Pakistan.

Imagine dodging camel dung while looking for a sandy spot to lay a towel, though.

On June 26, 2014 · 2 Comments

2 Responses to “Spit”

  1. wangi says:

    One of the Scots Gaelic terms for an island, innis, is frequently Anglicised as inch in Scottish place-names. I imagine same is true in Ireland. See also http://www.arts.gla.ac.uk/ScotLit/ASLS/SWE/TBI/TBIIssue12/Eilean.html

  2. Pfly says:

    Gotta wonder how many Sandspits there are. There’s a town of that name, and probably a spit too, in Haida Gwaii, British Columbia.

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