Peter O'Connor a.k.a. anemoneprojectors, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
Peter O'Connor a.k.a. anemoneprojectors, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

From Ham to Sandwich: 40 Odd British Place Names (And What They Really Mean…)

Peter O'Connor a.k.a. anemoneprojectors, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
Peter O'Connor a.k.a. anemoneprojectors, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

It’s easy to forget that all proper nouns, including first names, surnames, and place names, are all just words in their own right, and as such have their own histories and etymologies behind them. But as the language develops and older words fall out of use, words can end up drifting closer to more familiar words until they eventually become identical—and that happens more often than not with place names.

As Old English became Middle English and eventually modern English, the ancient word elements used to form place names in Old English became obsolete, and as a result some of the names themselves drifted towards other pre-existing and more familiar words in the language. A tour of Britain ultimately could take in the likes of Badger, Droop, Lost, Nasty, Ogle, and Thong—and here’s why.

1. The village of ARROW near Stratford is named for the river Arrow that flows through it, which in turn might take its name from a long-lost Celtic word meaning something like “swift” or “fast-flowing water.”

2. The tiny village of BADGER in Shropshire probably derives from an ancient Anglo-Saxon first name, Baecg, plus ofer, an old English word for a flat-topped promontory.

3. BEER on the coast of Devon in southwest England has nothing to do with liquor: it’s a derivative of an Old English word bearu, meaning “grove.”

4. BOX, just a few miles outside of Bath, takes its name from Buxus, the Latin word for the boxwood tree. (Bath itself is named after the city’s famous Roman baths.)

5. Nothing to do with rabbits, unfortunately: BUNNY in Nottinghamshire is a compound of the Old English words bune and eg, and literally means “reed-covered island.”

6. CARGO in Cumbria, just south of the Scottish border, has a name derived from carreg, a Celtic word meaning “rock,” and haugr, a Scandinavian word meaning “hill.”

7. COTTON in Suffolk takes its name from an Old English word meaning “small houses.” Cottage and dovecot are derived from the same root.

8. Among the strangest of English place names, CRACKPOT in North Yorkshire takes its name from an ancient Scandinavian word for crow, krákr, whereas…

9. … the village of CROW in Hampshire likely derives from one of two ancient Celtic words, crie or crou, meaning “weir” or “sty” respectively.

10. The unfortunately-named hamlet of DROOP in Dorset takes its name from an Old English word, þrop, for an outlying village or farmstead.

11. EAGLE in Lincolnshire literally means something like “oak-tree wood” or “oak-tree clearing,” and derives from a combination two Old English word roots.

12. There are a handful of villages in Essex in southeast England named EASTER, which despite appearances probably take their name from an Old English word, eowestre, meaning “sheep-fold.”

13. Likewise, there are towns and villages all over England called EYE, including examples in Suffolk, Herefordshire, and Cambridgeshire. All of them take their name from the Old English word eg, which, as well as meaning “island,” was also used to refer to a relatively well drained area of land in an otherwise marshy or boggy landscape. The words island and isle, incidentally, also derive from Old English eg.

14. The Derbyshire village of FLAGG in the Peak District probably takes its name from a Scandinavian word for a place where turf could be cut.

15. The village of HAM in Gloucestershire—as well as the “ham” found at the end of countless place names like Birmingham and Nottingham—is derived from a widely-used Old English word, hamm, for a town or farmstead, or else an enclosure or otherwise isolated or enclosed area of land, like a hill or an area of land surrounded by a river bend.

16. An Old English first name, Haegel, is at the root of the name of the Lincolnshire village of HEALING.

17. Probably nothing to do with being high, the Wiltshire village of HIGHWAY actually takes its name from being a road for hay.

18. Like “ham,” HOPE is another common element in ancient English place names—as well as the name of villages in Derbyshire, North Yorkshire and Herefordshire—and derives from an Old English word, hop, meaning “valley” or “enclosed plot of land.”

19. The Isle of Wight off the south coast of England is home to “Seven Wonders”—namely seven local places (Lake, Ryde, Cowes, Freshwater, Newport, Newtown, Winkle Street, and The Needles) whose names seem to contradict their meaning: you can’t thread The Needles, there are no winkles on Winkle Street, you can’t bottle the Newport, drink the Freshwater or milk the Cowes, you walk in Ryde, and there’s no lake in LAKE. Instead, the village of Lake takes its name, somewhat confusingly, from an Old English word, lacu, meaning “stream.”

20. LOOSE in Kent takes its name from an Old English word for a pig-sty, hlōse.

21. The Aberdeenshire village of LOST is so small it’s probably impossible to get lost in it. It takes its name from a corruption of a Scots Gaelic word, taigh-òsda, meaning “inn” or “hotel.”

22. MAKER on the coast of Cornwall takes its name from an old Cornish word, magoer, meaning “wall” or “ruin.”

23. One of the smallest islands in the Inner Hebrides, the Scottish island of MUCK derives from a Gaelic word, muc, meaning “pig.”

24. NASTY in Hertfordshire isn’t as nasty as it sounds: it derives from a compound of the Old English words ēast and hæg, and literally means “eastern enclosure.”

25. OGLE in Northumberland derives from Ocga, an Anglo-Saxon first name, and hyll or hill.

26. The village of OLD in Northamptonshire was originally called “Walda,” then later “Wolde,” and took its name from wald, an Old English word for a woodland.

27. PLUSH in Dorset comes from an Old English word, plysc, meaning “pool.”

28. REDDISH near Manchester probably has nothing to do with color and instead combines the old English words hreod and dic, meaning “ditch by the reed beds.”

29. The “sand” of SANDWICH in Kent is precisely that, but the “wich” comes from the Old English word wic, meaning “trading place,” “dwelling,” or “farm.” Put together, it probably originally referring to a coastal market town.

30. SEND in nearby Surrey derives from the Old English word for sand, sende

31. … while SETTLE in West Yorkshire comes from an Old English word, setl, meaning “high dwelling place.”

32. and 33. Both SHEET in Hampshire and SHUTE in Devon derive from sciete, an Old English word for a corner or bend of land.

34. Another fairly unfortunately named village, THONG in Kent derives from the Old English word thwang, meaning “a narrow stretch of land.”

35. TIPTOE in Hampshire takes its name from an old family name, Typetot, that has been recorded in the area since the 13th century at least.

36. TONGUE in the Scottish Highlands actually means “tongue,” in the sense of a projecting tongue of land. In that sense, it derives from an ancient Scandinavian word, tunga.

37. UPHILL in Somerset isn’t actually uphill, but rather “above the stream”—it would have once combined the Old English words uppan, meaning “higher” or “upon,” and pyll, meaning “tidal creek.”

38. WHALE in Cumbria is 40 miles from the coast, and unsurprisingly has nothing to do with marine mammals. Instead, it derives from hváll, a Scandinavian word for a rounded hill.

39. Likewise WOOL in Dorset has nothing to do with sheep, but comes from an Old English word for a spring, wiell.

40. And no one really knows why YELLING in Cambridgeshire is so called, but one theory is that it is named after someone who had the Anglo-Saxon first name Giella.

A New App Interprets Sign Language for the Amazon Echo

The convenience of the Amazon Echo smart speaker only goes so far. Without any sort of visual interface, the voice-activated home assistant isn't very useful for deaf people—Alexa only understands three languages, none of which are American Sign Language. But Fast Company reports that one programmer has invented an ingenious system that allows the Echo to communicate visually.

Abhishek Singh's new artificial intelligence app acts as an interpreter between deaf people and Alexa. For it to work, users must sign at a web cam that's connected to a computer. The app translates the ASL signs from the webcam into text and reads it aloud for Alexa to hear. When Alexa talks back, the app generates a text version of the response for the user to read.

Singh had to teach his system ASL himself by signing various words at his web cam repeatedly. Working within the machine-learning platform Tensorflow, the AI program eventually collected enough data to recognize the meaning of certain gestures automatically.

While Amazon does have two smart home devices with screens—the Echo Show and Echo Spot—for now, Singh's app is one of the best options out there for signers using voice assistants that don't have visual components. He plans to make the code open-source and share his full methodology in order to make it accessible to as many people as possible.

Watch his demo in the video below.

[h/t Fast Company]

How to Craft the Perfect Comeback, According to Experts

In a 1997 episode of Seinfeld called “The Comeback,” George Costanza is merrily stuffing himself with free shrimp at a meeting. His coworker mocks him: “Hey, George, the ocean called. They’re running out of shrimp.” George stands humiliated as laughter fills the room, his mind searching frantically for the perfect riposte.

It’s only later, on the drive home, that he thinks of the comeback. But the moment has passed.

The common human experience of thinking of the perfect response too late—l’esprit de l’escalier, or "the wit of the staircase"—was identified by French philosopher Denis Diderot when he was so overwhelmed by an argument at a party that he could only think clearly again once he’d gotten to the bottom of the stairs.

We've all been there. Freestyle rappers, improv comedians, and others who rely on witty rejoinders for a living say their jobs make them better equipped to seize the opportunity for clever retorts in everyday life. They use a combination of timing, listening, and gagging their inner critics. Here are their insights for crafting the perfect comeback.


The next time you’re in a heated conversation, be less focused on what you're about to say and more attentive to what you're actually responding to. When you spend more time considering what your sparring partner is saying, “you’re deferring your response until you’ve fully heard the other person," Jim Tosone, a technology executive-turned-improv coach who developed the Improv Means Business program, tells Mental Floss. Your retorts may be more accurate, and therefore more successful, when you’re fully engaged with the other person’s thoughts.


According to Belina Raffy, the CEO of the Berlin-based company Maffick—which also uses improv skills in business—not overthinking the situation is key. “You’re taking yourself out of unfolding reality if you think too much,” she tells Mental Floss. It’s important to be in the moment, and to deliver your response to reflect that moment.


History’s most skilled comeback artists stored witticisms away for later use, and were able to pull them out of their memory at the critical time.

Winston Churchill was known for his comebacks, but Tim Riley, director and chief curator at the National Churchill Museum in Fulton, Missouri, tells Mental Floss that many of his burns were borrowed. One of his most famous lines was in response to politician Bessie Braddock’s jab, “Sir, you are drunk.” The prime minister replied, “And you, Bessie, are ugly. But I shall be sober in the morning, and you will still be ugly.”

Riley says this line was copied from comic W.C. Fields. Nevertheless, it took quick thinking to remember and reshape the quote in the moment, which is why Churchill was thought of as a master of timing. “It was an off-the-cuff recall of something he had synthesized, composed earlier, and that he was waiting to perform,” Riley says.

But in some situations, the retort must be created entirely in the moment. Training for spontaneity on stage also helps with being quicker-witted in social situations, New York City battle rap emcee iLLspokinn tells Mental Floss. It’s like working a spontaneous muscle that builds with each flex, so, you’re incrementally better each time at seizing that witty opportunity.


Anyone who has been in the audience for an improv show has seen how rapidly performers respond to every situation. Improv teaches you to release your inhibitions and say what drops into your mind: “It’s about letting go of the need to judge ourselves,” Raffy explains.

One way to break free of your internal editor might be to imagine yourself on stage. In improv theater, the funniest responses occur in the spur of the moment, says Douglas Widick, an improv performer who trained with Chicago’s Upright Citizens Brigade. By not letting one’s conscience be one’s guide, actors can give into their “deepest fantasies” and say the things they wouldn’t say in real life.


The German version of Diderot’s term is Treppenwitz, also meaning the wit of the stairs. But the German phrase has evolved to mean the opposite: Something said that, in retrospect, was a bad joke. When squaring up to your rival, the high you get from spearing your opponent with a deadly verbal thrust can be shadowed by its opposite, the low that comes from blurting out a lame response that lands like a lead balloon.

That's a feeling that freestyle rapper Lex Rush hopes to avoid. “In the heat of the battle, you just go for it,” she tells Mental Floss. She likens the fight to a “stream of consciousness” that unfolds into the mic, which leaves her with little control over what she’s projecting into the crowd.

It may help to mull over your retort if you have a few extra seconds—especially if you’re the extroverted type. “Introverts may walk out of a meeting thinking, ‘Why didn’t I say that?’ while extroverts think, ‘Why did I say that?’” Tosone, the improv coach, says. Thinking before you speak, even just briefly, will help you deploy a successful comeback.

And if it doesn’t go your way, iLLspokinn advises brushing off your missed opportunity rather than dwelling on your error: “It can be toxic to hold onto it."


Texting and social media, as opposed to face-to-face contact, give you a few extra minutes to think through your responses. That could improve the quality of your zinger. “We’re still human beings, even on screens. And we prefer something that is well-stated and has a fun energy and wit about it," Scott Talan, a social media expert at American University, tells Mental Floss.

But don't wait too long: Replies lose their punch after a day or so. “Speed is integral to wit, whether in real life or screen life,” Talan says. “If you’re trying to be witty and have that reputation, then speed will help you."

Some companies have excelled in deploying savage social media burns as marketing strategies, winning viral retweets and recognition. The Wendy’s Twitter account has become so well known for its sassy replies that users often provoke it. “Bet you won’t follow me @Wendys,” a user challenged. “You won that bet,” Wendy’s immediately shot back.

George Costanza learns that lesson when he uses his rehearsed comeback at the next meeting. After his colleague repeats his shrimp insult, George stands and proudly announces, “Oh yeah? Well, the jerk store called, and they’re running out of you!”

There’s silence—until his nemesis comes back with a lethal move: “What’s the difference? You’re their all-time best-seller.”


More from mental floss studios