Insignificant Synonyms

On August 19, 2014 · 4 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?


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?


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!"

Drive Me Crazy

On December 1, 2013 · 11 Comments

Previous 12MC articles delved into creative and sometimes bizarre pairings of street names with suffixes. Those were explored in posts such as Order in the Court, He Went Thata Way and No Way! Way!. Enough with the Courts and Ways (curds and whey?). It’s time to drive.

Line Drive

Line Drive, Manchester, NH, USA

Readers from international areas devoid of baseball might wonder why Line Drive would be an odd street name choice. It’s an intuitive term to those of us who grew up with the sport, and similarly difficult to translate to outsiders. No doubt, someone trying to describe a Cricket term to me would have the same problem in reverse. Instead I’ll steal the dictionary definition: "a ball that is hit by the batter and goes in a nearly straight line not far above the ground." It can be dangerous to players on the field at the receiving end of a line drive and can also lead to spectacular plays when handled properly.

Consequently I found several Line Drives at municipal ball parks and baseball diamonds including two at professional minor league stadiums.

  • The New Hampshire Fisher Cats, a Double-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays plays at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium (formerly Fisher Cats Ballpark) at 1 Line Drive in Manchester, New Hampshire. What is a fisher cat? It’s a type of weasel.
  • The Iowa Cubs, a Triple-A farm team of the Chicago Cubs, plays at Principal Park, at 1 Line Drive in Des Moines, Iowa.

Disk Drive

Disk Drive, Madison, AL, USA

I suppose at one time maybe 15 years ago Disk Drive would have sounded like a clever street name for an industrial park hoping to attract information technology companies. At least the occurrence in Madison, Alabama had an honest-to-goodness linkage to the IT industry. Intergraph Corporation, a software development and services company, maintains an office there albeit with a street address other than Disk Drive.

Honorable Mentions

Scenic Drive, Hamilton, ON, Canada

There were often several examples of each name. I tried to select ones that were the most representative.

  • Scenic Drive, Hamilton, ON, Canada (map)
  • Cattle Drive, Austin, TX (map)
  • Over Dive, Vermillion, SD (map)
  • The Drive Drive, Benoni, Gauteng, South Africa (map). This was an amusing Google Maps error. Other online maps labeled it The Drive with no suffix attached so apparently the true name was more than Google could handle
  • Sunday Drive, Hanover, PA (map). That was as close as I could get to Sunday Driver.
  • Just Drive, Fort Worth, TX (map). It was located in a trailer park. Of course it was. I’m still looking for the more crude variant Shutupan Drive, which I think would make a fine name for a street. I found a coffee shop in Incheon, South Korea called Shutupandtakecoffee which made me recall the Soup Nazi episode of Seinfeld. Shut up and take coffee! No coffee for you!
  • Could there really be no Pile Drive?

The Best (or Worst)

Doctor Dr., Virginia Beach, VA, USA

I held a special fondness for Doctor Drive, located in a number of places nationwide. The answer might not appear all that obvious until converted to its logical abbreviations. Doctor Drive shortened to Dr. Dr.

The example I highlighted from Virginia Beach would be noteworthy from a couple of perspectives. First, it intersected with Hospital Drive so that implied maybe at one time it could have been appropriately named for its circumstances. Second it offered additional opportunities for abbreviated mischief. Thus, the Get Reel Lure Co. (caution – annoying website background music) could potentially shorten its address to: 204 Dr. Dr., VA Beach, VA!

Short Distance Namesakes

On December 20, 2012 · 28 Comments

Something has been bothering me since I mentioned the town of Washington, Virginia recently in Flip-Flopping. It claims to be the oldest town named for George Washington, platted by none other than George Washington himself in 1749. I noted that it’s often called Little Washington to differentiate it from nearby Washington, DC which dates to 1791. "Little" Washington is only 68.7 miles (111 kilometres) from "Big" Washington according to Google Maps. Was this the closest distance between two towns that share the same name?

View Larger Map
Washington to Washington

It was not, by the way, but I’ll get to that later.

I began by establishing some ground rules.

  1. The names had to arise independently although they could originate from a common source. Both Washingtons were named for George Washington. Clearly the city of Washington was not named for the little village in rural Virginia, though.
  2. They could not be part of the same basic metropolitan area. Kansas City (Missouri/Kansas), St. Louis – East St. Louis (Missouri/Illinois), Niagara Falls (New York/Ontario) and similar occurrences were specifically excluded. See how I crossed an international boundary on that last one? Right. The two Congos fell into this same category and I tossed that possibility from consideration too (plus, they’re countries not towns).
  3. They both had to be "meaningful" places. That was subjective. I defined it to mean that they both had to appear as labeled places on Google Maps. In the event of an approximate tie I would consider it better if each town was large enough to have a government and a web presence. Washington, Virginia is the seat of government for Rappahannock County in addition to being a town in its own right, for example.
  4. Google Maps would also serve as the final arbiter of distance using simple queries such as "Washington, VA to Washington, DC." No lat/long coordinates or street addresses could be used to shorten distances.

View Larger Map
Greenville to Greenville

I began by consulting Wikipedia’s list of the most common U.S. place names and I figured I’d start with those found in Rhode Island. None of those towns would be very far from a state border by definition. The same would hold true, relatively speaking, for neighboring Connecticut and Massachusetts. That winnowed the list down to Greenville, Riverside, Kingston and Newport for Rhode Island. I didn’t get any cross-border cooperation, though. Nonetheless and to my surprise, Greenville, Rhode Island to Greenville, New Hampshire — crossing through the entire width of Massachusetts — scored very well at 79.6 miles (128 km).

I also uncovered an odd Google Maps glitch, and I’m not sure if it was specific to me or whether it will be repaired before someone else attempts it. I tried to route from "Greenville, NH to Greenville, VT" and it calculated a 0.4 mile path to Panda Wok. I wonder how much Panda Wok paid Google for that nifty little trick?

Then I started getting a weird sense of déjà vu, like maybe I’d already published this article before. That possibility dawned on me as I examined other common town names on the list, particularly Franklin. I worry about the day that it will happen, and believe me it will happen someday. I now have several hundred articles under my belt and it’s hard to keep them all straight. Today is not that day. I searched my archives and found that two Franklins appeared in The Jeffersons and Beyond in a different context with a distance of 102 miles (164 km) between them.

While I was at it I also observed Washington, Maryland on the list and compared it to Washington, DC. It did almost as well as Washington, VA, at 69.7 miles (112 km); only a mile farther! (map). Mostly though, the list was a bust.

View Larger Map
Lens to Lens

Then I transitioned to the desperation method. That involved looking near state and provincial borders for similar towns, and failing that, moving on to national boundaries. Languages tend to slop across European borders so maybe I could find something there. I spotted Lens in northern France and focused on it only because it was a short name. Could there be a Lens in Belgium. Yes, and the distance between them was 66.5 miles (107 km).

I found the best answer of the day completely by luck.

Now I turn the challenge over to the wise and all-knowing 12MC audience. I think there has to be better occurrences, probably numerous ones, that meet the four basic criteria.

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