A Sideways Glance at the Hidden Meaning of Aussie Place Names

There are many place names around the world that cry out to tell you their true meaning. Well, perhaps not their ridgey didge true meaning, but who has ever looked at the name Footscray and not felt that it probably also exists as an entry in a medical dictionary? Or Patchewollock, or Humpty Doo? Exactly.

This work attempts to do for (or to) Australian place names what Douglas Adams and John Lloyd did for Britain and the rest of the world, in The Meaning of Liff and The Deeper Meaning of Liff.

Words by Duncan Waldron, illustrations by Matt Davis.

Creative Commons License
This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Licence.


See Why am I doing this? for something approaching a motive.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Why am I doing this?

Good question. I like words; I like the ability to express sensitive nuance one minute and blunt invective the next. If I have any regrets in life, one might be that I didn't learn Latin at school, to benefit from a deeper understanding of our language. It is therefore purely happenstance that on occasion the wheels in my mind should turn slowly in a particular sequence, leading to 'discoveries' when I really look at a word and infer its roots. Life is full of these minor, but nonetheless pleasant, epiphanies.

This work has little to do with the preceding statements, save the looking at a place name, and finding a resonance, a suggestion of possible meaning. Much of what follows has been spawned by a skewed imagination reared on "Do not adjust your set," Monty Python, Spike Milligan and the Goons, Pete & Dud, Fry & Laurie and many other seminal manifestations of all that was and is great about British comedy over the past half-century - not forgetting dear departed Douglas Adams.

I have long been fascinated by names - of places and people - and how they came about. Smith, Butcher, Fletcher and co. are easy to understand, but Hancock, Sidebottom (or Sidebotham, if you will), Nether Wallop and so on, seem to exist as a challenge to keeping a straight face. Where, how, did they originate? Piddletrenthide is quite delightful; we know that this village derives its name from the River Piddle, but who thought of calling the river by that name? ... or did the vernacular meaning of the word come from the river?

By way of further explanation of the content to follow (or perhaps just to illustrate the kind of off-centre thought-processes that have led to it), I would recall the occasions in school, when we played word-association games. It often seemed to happen that my mind would make a double leap (or perhaps a hop, skip and jump), so that in the potential sequence field - farm - lamb - mint sauce, my mind would take lamb as read and move rapidly on to mint sauce, leaving the others somewhat bemused. I just couldn't help it.

I hope, dear reader, that you will enjoy this work. Should you fail to understand parts of it (or indeed, any of it), then don't worry - it's not you, it's me.

Note: I am keen to draw the reader's attention to the fact that no disrespect at all is intended towards any place whose name is featured in this work. All the disrespect is aimed squarely at the annoying prats, frustrating situations, etc, to which those names have been (temporarily) assigned.


RosaCobos said...

Hi Duncan,
Yes...you would not have imagined....never...I am here..a little bit like "Lisa Simpson"..ready to talk and talk....

Curiosity. The fuel of creativity and knowledge. Since new born...to now..again new born.
I love words too...strange for a person that beleives that the utmost creation of realization is entering into the Supreme Silence.
I even dare to use it in a language that is not my mother´s...and so I love it that I even can recommend a couple of books about this stuff.
One of them is "The Stuff of Thought" by Steven Pinker...a revolutionary of the semantics for me. And the other...that was quoted in the former...."Crazy English" by Richard Lederer...this late has made me laugh....really laugh.

You mention Monty Phyton..Fry&Laurie...Well...they are gods in our home. And their intelligent "crazyness" soothes our most low instincts.

I appreciate your photograhp...but...did some mosquitoe tried to dive into your retine? Oh....how painful. You are great. Your new "dictionary is funny, fresh, sarcastic, and so common-life!. I will..with time know all the new meanings and the new words. No matter that they are in English....you are describing situations that are pure commedy and a reality by all means.

Well..happy to have "opened" the thread of comments here...People is so boring...sometimes. I cannot understand how can´t just submit to your talent...and enjoy it!

Have a double hug, Duncan.

Duncan said...

Rosa! I forgot to switch on email notifications, so didn't know you'd commented. You are, as ever, a wondrous person in the richness of your thoughts. Thanks for those book refs, they sound good. Have you read any of Stephen Fry's books? Liar was my first, and I loved it. Have also read Making History, and must read more of his.

My photograph ... no comment!