15 Places With Strange Names (and How They Got Them)

Sarah Afshar, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY SA 3.0
Sarah Afshar, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY SA 3.0

What's in a (bizarre) name? Here are some strangely named places and the stories, legends, and theories about their origins.

1. Santa Claus, Indiana

In 1854, a group of pioneers settled in southwest Indiana and established a small town called Santa Fe. But when they applied to get a post office two years later, they were turned down. There was already another Santa Fe, Indiana, with a post office. The new Santa Fe would need a new, distinct name to get one of their own.

Fact and legend blur when it comes to how the town settled on calling itself Santa Claus. The standard version of the story goes like this: the townspeople held several meetings over the next few months to select a new name, but could not agree on one. The last town meeting of the year was held late on Christmas Eve after church services. During the debate, a gust of wind blew open the church doors and everyone heard the ringing of sleigh bells close by. Several children got excited and shouted “Santa Claus!” A light bulb went off in someone’s head and by Christmas morning, the town had a new name.

2. Intercourse, Pennsylvania

The town of Cross Keys, nestled in Pennsylvania’s Amish country, changed its name to Intercourse in 1814. How and why is anybody’s guess. There are a few explanations floating around about the origin of the name, but none with a lot of solid evidence to back them up.

One story ties it to a racetrack that used to exist just east of the town. The entrance to the track had a sign above it that read “Enter Course.” Locals began to refer to the town as “Entercourse,” which eventually evolved into “Intercourse.”

Another proposed origin has to do with an old usage of the word intercourse—everyday social and business connections and interactions.

3. Idiotville, Oregon

Idiotville is a ghost town and former logging community northwest of Portland. Most of its former residents worked at a nearby logging camp called Ryan's Camp. Because of the camp’s remote location, locals said that only an idiot would work and live there. They began referring to the surrounding area as Idiotville. The name was eventually borrowed for a nearby stream, Idiot Creek, and officially applied to the community on maps.

4. Toad Suck, Arkansas

A widely accepted story about Toad Suck’s name dates back to the days of steamboat travel on the Arkansas River. Toad Suck sits along the river and its tavern was a frequent stop for boatmen, who were said to “suck on the bottle until they swelled up like toads.”

Dr. John L. Ferguson, late director of the Arkansas History Commission, proposed an alternate explanation. He thought it was likely that, since the first Europeans to thoroughly explore the area were French, the name was an English corruption of a French word (like how aux Arcs became Ozarks).

This Arkansas travel website runs with Ferguson’s idea and muses at length about the different words and phrases that could have given rise to Toad Suck, including eau d' sucre, chateau d' sucré and coté eau d' sucre.

5. Eighty Eight, Kentucky

Eighty Eight is an unincorporated town in Barren County. According to the New York Times, Dabnie Nunally, the town’s first postmaster, came up with the name. Nunnally didn’t think very highly of his handwriting, and thought that using a number as the town’s name would make legibility on mail less of an issue. To come up with the numbers, he reached into his pocket and counted his change. He had 88 cents.

An alternate explanation sometimes floated around is that Eighty Eight is located eight miles from each of its neighboring towns—Glasgow to the west and Summer Shade to the east. (According to Google Maps, however, Summer Shade is actually about five miles away.)

6. Eighty Four, Pennsylvania

Eighty Four is a small unincorporated community southwest of Pittsburgh. It was originally named Smithville, but Pennsylvania already had a Smithville (also a New Smithville), so the USPS required a name change to avoid postal confusion. The true origin of the name is unknown, but it's been suggested that the number comes from the town’s place along the 84th mile of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad line, or the year the post office was built.

7. Ding Dong, Texas

The fact that Ding Dong is in central Texas’ Bell County is a funny coincidence. The county was named for Governor Peter Bell, and the town for resident and businessman Zulis Bell and his nephew Bert (no relation to the governor).

The Bells ran a general store and hired a local painter named C.C. Hoover to make a sign for their business. Hoover supposedly illustrated the sign with two bells inscribed with the Bells’ names, and then wrote “Ding Dong” coming out the bottom of the bells. As a rural community grew around the area, the words stuck as a name for the place.

8. Cut and Shoot, Texas

In the early 1900s, trouble was brewing in a small, unnamed community a little north of Houston. Different versions of a local legend say that the townspeople were fighting over either the new steeple for the town's church; the matter of which denominations could use the building (and when); or the land claims of church members.

Whatever the reason, the townspeople had gathered near the church and were on the brink of violence. A boy at the scene supposedly declared to his family that he was going to take up a tactical position and “cut around the corner and shoot through the bushes.”

The matter was eventually taken before the court. When the judge asked one witness where the confrontation had taken place, he didn’t know what to call it, since the town didn’t have a name. He told the judge, “I suppose you could call it the place where they had the cutting and shooting scrape,” and the name stuck.

9. Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha!, Quebec

The municipality of Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! in Quebec has a name that makes perfect sense -in French. Sort of. The Ha! Ha! is officially traced back to an archaic French term, "The haha," which means an unexpected obstacle or dead end. This would refer to Lake Témiscouata, which came into view suddenly for early French explorers. The citizens of Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! are proud to say that it is the only city name in the world that features two exclamation points.

See Also: The Origins of the 8 Strangest Place Names in Canada

10. Hot Coffee, Mississippi

In the early 1800s, travelers on their way to Mobile often stopped at an inn in southern Mississippi, where owner Levi Davis greeted them with ginger cookies and a pot of piping hot coffee. The inn took on the name of its signature beverage, and eventually so did the surrounding area. Today, it’s not really a town so much as a scattering of farms, homes and businesses along Hot Coffee Road.

11. Knockemstiff, Ohio

Knockemstiff is a small rural town in south central Ohio. Several legends give different explanations for the name. One says that in the 1800s, a traveling preacher entering town came across two women fighting over a man. The preacher doubted the man was worth the trouble and said that someone should “knock him stiff.”

Another similar story has it that a woman went to a preacher to complain that her husband was cheating on her. The preacher’s straightforward advice became a motto around town, and eventually its name. Yet another explanation is that the name is slang for the moonshine or homemade liquor that many of the locals manufactured.

12. Two Egg, Florida

This little burg got its name during the Great Depression. The story goes that in the town’s general store, two lads often came in on errands for their mom, regularly trading two eggs for a package of sugar. Locals began referring to the place as the “two egg store,” and the name stuck for the town as well. Strange fact: On the town’s website, there is news about sightings of a Bigfoot-type creature called the Two Egg Stump Jumper.

13. Rabbit Hash, Kentucky

According to popular legend, a flood in the 1840s drove hundreds of rabbits from the riverbank, and right into the stew pots of hungry settlers. Described by the general store clerk as “a little slice of American pie,” Rabbit Hash consists of “eight buildings and an official population of one.”

14. Cookietown, Oklahoma

This place supposedly got its name in the early 1900s, after general store owner Marvin Cornelius gave a cookie to a young boy, who exclaimed, “I don’t want to leave Cookietown.” Despite its yummy name, Cookietown is more of a ghost town today—just a few residents and a church.

15. Glen Campbell, Pennsylvania

This small (pop. 306 as of the 2000 census) borough in Western PA isn’t named after the Glen Campbell famous for "Rhinestone Cowboy" and "Wichita Lineman." Instead, it’s named in honor of Cornelius Campbell, the first superintendent of the Glenwood Coal Company, which operated the mines in the area. The Glen in the name comes from the Scottish word for a valley.

This post originally appeared in 2011.

11 Dothraki Words and Phrases Every Game of Thrones Fan Should Know

Helen Sloan, HBO
Helen Sloan, HBO

You know the words khal and khaleesi, but consider working these other words and phrases from the Dothraki language—which was created by linguist David J. Peterson, and featured in Living Language Dothraki—into your vocabulary before the final season of Game of Thrones premieres on April 14, 2019.

1. M’athchomaroon!

The Dothraki way of saying hi, this word—which can also be shortened to M’ach! or M’ath!—translates to “With respect.” To say hello to a group of non-Dothrakis, you would use the phrase Athchomar chomakea, which literally translates to “Respect to those that are respectful.” Fonas chek, which translates to "hunt well," is one way to say goodbye.

2. San athchomari yeraan!

Peterson writes that the Dothraki have no word for “thank you.” Instead, use this phrase, which literally translates to “a lot of honor to you!” but basically means “much respect!”

3. Fichas jahakes moon!

These are Dothraki fighting words, meant to encourage the warriors in their khalasar (or Dothraki group). This phrase means “get him!” but literally translates to “Take his braid”—which makes sense, since Dothrakis cut off their braids after a defeat. A Dothraki who wins a lot of battles is a lajak haj, or “strong warrior.”

4. And 5. Yer shekh ma shieraki anni and Yer jalan atthirari anni

Jason Momoa and Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones
Helen Sloan, HBO

Both of these phrases—the first said by a male, the second by a female—mean “you are my loved one,” but they literally translate to phrases well-known to Game of Thrones fans: “You are my sun and stars” and “You are the moon of my life.” As Peterson notes, “these expressions come from Dothraki mythology, in which the sun is the husband of the moon.”

6. Anha dothrak adakhataan

Peterson writes that “as a result of the importance of horses to Dothraki culture, there are many idiomatic expressions related to horses and riding.” This phrase is best used before a meal: It means “I’m about to eat,” and literally translates to “I ride to eating.” If you were Dothraki, you’d likely be eating fresh horsemeat (gavat) and drinking mare’s milk (lamekh ohazho, which is often just shortened to lamekh).

7. Hrazef

This is Dothraki for horse, and there are many other words relating to horses in the language. A good one to know is the word for the great stallion, a.k.a., “the deity worshipped by the Dothraki”: vezhof.

8. Addrivat

Joseph Naufahu, Tamer Hassan, Emilia Clarke, Elie Haddad, Darius Dar Khan, and Diogo Sales in Game of Thrones
HBO

If there’s one thing the Dothraki are very good at, it’s killing, and they have multiple words for the deed. This is a verb meaning “to kill,” and literally translates to “to make something dead.” Both Ds are pronounced. It’s used, according to Peterson, “when the killer is a sentient being.” (Drozhat is used when a person is killed by an animal or an inanimate object, "like a fallen rock," Peterson writes.)

9. Asshekhqoyi vezhvena!

The next time your friend or loved one is celebrating another year around the sun, use this Dothraki phrase, which means “happy birthday” but literally translates to “[Have] a great blood-day!”

10. Zhavorsa or Zhavvorsa

Dothraki for dragon. Finne zhavvorsa anni? means “Where are my dragons?” This word might not be super applicable in everyday life, so jano—the Dothraki word for dog or dogs—is probably more appropriate.

11. Vorsa

Dracarys—a.k.a., what Dany says to Drogon to get him to let loose—is the High Valyrian word for dragonfire. It's unclear if the Dothraki have a word for dragonfire, but the word for fire is vorsa. Sondra, meanwhile, is their word for obsedian—or, as it's called on Game of Thrones, dragonglass.

For more information on the Dothraki language and culture, pick up Living Language Dothraki: A Conversational Language Course Created by David J. Peterson Based on the Hit Original HBO Series Game of Thrones at Amazon.

13 Facts About the Oxford English Dictionary

iStock.com/GCShutter
iStock.com/GCShutter

This year marks the 135th birthday of the Oxford English Dictionary (though the eminent reference book is hardly looking its age). As the English language continues to evolve, the dictionary has flourished and regularly added new words such as nothingburger, prepper, idiocracy, and fam. Get to know it better.

1. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) was built on volunteer labor.

When the London Philological Society came up with the idea for a new dictionary of the English language in 1857, the editors decided it was necessary to enlist the help of the public and asked avid readers to send examples of sentences that could illuminate the meanings of different words. Every day, volunteers mailed thousands of “quotation slips” from books, newspapers, and magazines. By the time the first edition was published, more than 2000 volunteers had assisted the editors in its completion.

2. It took more than 70 years to complete the first edition of the OED.

Originally, the Philological Society predicted that the dictionary would take about 10 years to complete. Twenty-seven years later, the editors had successfully reached the word ant. Knowing it would be a while until a completed book was ready, they began publishing unbound editions of the work-in-progress in 1884. The first full volume was eventually published in 1928, more than 70 years after the society first came up with the idea.

3. The OED started out messy. Very messy.

Frederick Furnivall, one of the dictionary’s founders, was a visionary—but that vision did not extend to his organizational skills. Under his stewardship as editor, the dictionary was a mess. Quotation slips were stuffed haphazardly into bags and went missing. All of the words starting with “Pa” went AWOL for 12 years and were eventually discovered in Ireland. Slips for the letter “G” were nearly burned with somebody’s trash. All of the entries for the letter “H” somehow turned up in Italy.

4. OED co-founder Frederick Furnivall was a controversial figure.

After founding a controversy-riddled Shakespeare Society, Furnivall fell into a six-year feud with the poet Algernon Charles Swinburne. Swinburne (whose mastery of the English language earned him six nominations for the Nobel Prize in Literature) mocked Furnivall’s club by calling it “Fartiwell and Co.” and “The Sh*tspeare Society.” Furnivall reached into his bag o' insults and said that Swinburne had, “the ear of a poetaster, hairy, thick and dull.”

5. Dr. James Murray helped the OED clean up its act.

Sir James Murray in his Scriptorium
Sir James Murray in his Scriptorium
Oxford English Dictionary // Public Domain

Dr. James Murray, a philologist, took the helm as the dictionary’s principal editor in 1879 and remained in that position for the rest of his life (he died in 1915). Murray was a linguistic superstar; he was proficient in Italian, French, Catalan, Spanish, Latin, Dutch, German, Flemish, and Danish and also had a solid grasp of Portuguese, Vaudois, Provençal, Celtic, Slavonic, Russian, Persian, Achaemenid Cuneiform, Sanskrit, Hebrew, Syriac, Aramaic Arabic, Coptic, and Phoenician.

6. Murray built a shed for the OED's editors to work in.

In 1885, to better organize the dictionary, Murray constructed a sunken shed made of corrugated iron to house the editors and their precious quotation slips. Called the “Scriptorium,” this linguistic workshop contained 1029 pigeonholes that allowed Murray and his subeditors to arrange, sort, and file more than 1000 quotation slips each day. 

6. Only one word is known to have gone missing.

Only one quotation slip—containing the word bondmaid—is known to have been lost. (It fell down behind some books and the editors never noticed.) Murray was deeply embarrassed by his failure to include the word in the dictionary. “[N]ot one of the 30 people (at least) who saw the work at various stages between MS. and electrotyped pages noticed the omission,” he said. “The phenomenon is absolutely inexplicable.” The word was officially introduced in a 1933 supplement.

7. One of the OED’s most prolific contributors was a murderer confined to an insane asylum.

One volunteer who provided the OED with countless quotation slips was William C. Minor, a schizophrenic who was incarcerated at the Broadmoor Insane Asylum in Berkshire, England, after he fatally shot a man he (erroneously) believed had broken into his room. According to Murray, Minor was the dictionary’s second most prolific contributor, even outdoing members of the full-time staff.

8. J.R.R. Tolkien contributed to the OED, too.

In 1919 and 1920, J.R.R. Tolkien worked for the dictionary, where he studied the etymology of Germanic words beginning with the letter W, composing drafts for words like waggle and wampum. "I learned more in those two years than in any other equal period of my life,” Tolkien later said. (Years later, Tolkien spoofed his editors in a comic fable called Farmer Giles of Ham.)

9. The longest entry in the OED is for a three-letter word.

The most complicated word in the Oxford English Dictionary? Set. In the dictionary’s 1989 edition, the three-letter word contains 430 senses (that is, shades of meaning) and requires a 60,000-word definition. Other short words with endless definitions? Run (396 senses), go (368 senses), and take (343 senses).

10. The most popular edition of the OED was impossible to read with the naked eye.

Originally, the OED had a limited audience. Not only was a set of books expensive, it was also bulky and took up an entire bookshelf. In 1971, the Oxford University Press decided to publish a smaller, complete version that compressed nine pages into one. The text was so tiny that the two-volume book came with a magnifying glass. It quickly became one of the bestselling dictionaries on the market.

11. Digitizing the OED took a lot of work.

In the late 1980s, it took more than 120 typists, 55 proofreaders, and a total of 67 million keystrokes to digitize the entire contents of the Oxford English Dictionary. The process took 18 months.

12. Shakespeare isn’t the OED's most quoted source.

The OED's most quoted source is, in fact, the British daily newspaper The Times, which has 42,840 quotations (nearly 10,000 more than William Shakespeare). Coming in third and fourth are the Scottish novelist Walter Scott and the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, respectively. When it comes to coining and introducing new words, Shakespeare isn’t first in that arena either; that honor belongs to Geoffrey Chaucer.

13. The last word in the OED is totally buggy.

Each year, about 2000 to 5000 new words, senses, and subentries are added to the Oxford English Dictionary. For years, the last word in the book was zynthum, a type of malty beer made in ancient Egypt. But in 2017, zynthum was usurped by zyzzyva, a type of South African weevil.

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