Accidentally Obscene January 7, 2012Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Medieval, Modern , trackback
The Belfast Telegraph recently ran a story on the Limerick town of Effin – named for St Eimhin no less! ‘Ann Marie Kennedy is proud to live in Effin – and now she has launched an online campaign to have Facebook recognise the town whose name was blacklisted for being too offensive [urban dictionary]. Ann Marie said the social networking site would not allow her to list Effin in Co Limerick on her profile page because it deemed it obscene.’
Effin is one of a long list of casualties of language fluidity. Placenames get mutated through the generations: Londinum becomes London. Swear words are invented and reinvented. And occasionally there is overlap as a placename comes worrying close to an obscenity (saints or not); or a swear word develops that happens to be the name of some poor town or village (and the neighbours laugh).
It goes without saying that these names should not be compared with deliberately obscene names.
At least today no one seriously thinks of changing a settlement name because of such unfortunate overlaps. In fact, one senses a certain dogged pride in keeping up the old word and the world be damned. But in previous centuries sensibilities were so preened that embarrassment had to be avoided at all costs.
This brings us to the unhappy ‘shit’ villages: Shittlington, Middle Shitlington, Nether Shitlington and Over Shitlington. All of these names come from Yorkshire and while they might have sent an eighteenth-century visitor into gentle giggles; by the nineteenth-century they were giving elderly matrons aneurisms.
And so in the way of things Shittlington became Littleworth (the lack of imagination is striking), then the closely associated Middle Shittlington, Nether Shittlington and Over Shittlington became, in 1855, respectively Middleton, Netherton and Overton and the world could breathe again.
A pity in some ways as the original name is an interesting one. Shitt seems to come from Anglo-Saxon scytel that probably means ‘something shot’, though there is (naturally) much disagreement.
Any other unlucky town or village names: drbeachcombing AT yahoo COM
9 Jan 2012: The Jannie writes in with this: ‘Further to Shitlington, Yorkshire seems to have a wealth of dodgy names. Within easy reach of here we have Penistone, Wombwell, Grimethorpe and Greasbrough.’ JC reminds us of an Austrian town whose signs keep disappearing Ray G writes in about Exeter: ‘Shitbrook Street (named because it ran down toward the Shit – aka Shute – Brook, a stream that was the city’s open sewer) is now called Paris Street. The date of the renaming isn’t clear, but it was pre-Victorian.’ Marvin has some State-side examples: ‘In Michigan there is a small town of Hell which, appropriately, is a considerable distance south of the town of Paradise. Pennsylvania also has a town of Paradise along with Intercourse and Blue Ball, and it is well known that the best way to go from Blue Ball to Paradise is through Intercourse.’ [!!!] Mike L puts us onto some rude name sites at telegraph, newslite and irgenius. Then Rick at the Anomalist has Athol. ‘It’s a town in Massachusetts, and it’s always amusing to hear someone mention it, especially if they’re the sort prone to call a spade a thpade.’ [!!!!] Pascal meanwhile remembers ‘On an album by Paul Young (wherever I lay my hat, love of the common people) called No Parlez (1983) there is a photograph of a sign saying “SHITTERTON”, it’s not a ‘Welcome to…’ type, looks more like a street name but the word stands alone, it’s not followed by road, street, lane or anything. Terrible shame it never had avenue at the end of it ‘cos that would make a questioned sentence in itself, chortle mirth’ Thanks to Jannie, JC, Pascal, Rick, Mike L. and Ray G!!!
24, 1, 12: Andy the Mad Monk and Invisible write in with a Swedish version of the obscene name problem. Invisible adds: On a similar note, Vicks VapoRub, a decongestant remedy, had to have its name changed to market it in Germany, as the German pronunciation was “fick.” As an undergraduate studying medieval exempla, I ran across a tale of a lecherous cleric named something like “Henry Fickerer.” My dear professor, no doubt seeking to spare my schoolgirl innocence, told me it meant “deceiver.” Thanks Andy and Invisible!
30/4/2012: Invisible sends in this extract from a major British newspaper. It seems that that Austrian village is about to cave in. ‘A pictured postcard Austrian village is being forced to bow to the power of the English language by changing its name. The good people of F*****g hadn’t had a problem until pranksters began making fun of them, with phone calls and joke postcards. Now the village is set to vote on a switch and the 16th century version of the name ‘Fugging’ is likely to be adopted. It may be an end to the random telephone calls which recipients find considerably less amusing than the people making them.’ Thanks Invisible!