From ERIC SHACKLE, in Sydney, Australia. <ericshackleATbigpond.com>
Most countries have towns with strange names. PITY ME is in England, INTERCOURSE is in Pennsylvania, HELL is in Michigan, while MORON is in Cuba; PARADISE is in California, while SURFERS PARADISE is in Australia.
"INTERCOURSE is the hub where the Amish and local folks do their business and host thousands of visitors each year," says that town centre's website.
"The beautiful Amish farms surround the Village.... INTERCOURSE is [near] our sister Villages of BIRD-IN-HAND and STRASBURG .
"The Village stands as a clear reminder of our traditional American heritage as people live by a simpler way of life. Formerly known as CROSS KEYS from a noted old tavern, this village was founded in 1754."
No one knows for sure how INTERCOURSE acquired its name, says the Centre. It cites these theories:
The entrance to a racecourse east of the town was known as ENTERCOURSE, which gradually evolved into INTERCOURSE, the name given to the town in 1814.
Two major roads crossed there. The junction could have led to the town being called CROSS KEYS or eventually INTERCOURSE.
"Old English" language was more common in 1814. Intercourse referred to the "fellowship" or social interaction and friendship which was so much a part of an agricultural village and culture at that time.
So much for Intercourse. Now what about PITY ME? My friend Ian Scott-Parker, an Englishman living in HURRICANE, Utah, used to live near that oddly-named English village just north of DURHAM (pronouced Durrum).
He recalled other odd names: "COCKERMOUTH and GREAT COCKUP are always worth a giggle," he said. "The Scottish town of ECCLEFECHAN (birthplace of Thomas Carlyle), not far north of Carlisle, seems to please, though I never figured out why; visitors to Cumbria are amazed to find that TORPENHOW is pronounced Trapenna, and the delightful town of APPLETREEWICK in North Yorkshire is pronounced Apptrick."
British historian David Simpson says "It has been suggested PITY ME was the site of a small lake or 'mere' and that the name means Petit Mere, Petty Mere or Peaty Mere.
"A more fanciful suggestion is that St Cuthbert's coffin was dropped there by wandering monks on their way to Durham. The miracle-working saint is said to have pleaded with the monks to be more careful and take pity on him.
"Another suggestion is that PITY ME is the cry of the Peewits (or Lapwings) which inhabit the area. Other PITY MEs can be found in the north of England, including a small place near BARRASFORD in the North Tyne valley, and a PITY ME near BRADBURY in south Durham."
Yorkshire boasts the villages of CRACKPOT, FANGFOSS, SCAGGLETHORPE,
BLUBBERHOUSES, SLAPE WATH, WETWANG and GREAT FRYUP.
Across the Atlantic, there's a place named HELL in Michigan. "Tucked away as it is amidst the hills, creeks, and rivers, HELL maintains a strange combination of notoriety and attraction," says the hell2u.com website. "People come to visit, to see HELL, to say they've been to HELL and back."
It says there are two theories as to how the town gained its name in the early 1830s.
Theory # 1: Two German travelers slid out of a curtained stagecoach one sunny summer afternoon, and one said to the other, "So schoene hell." "Hell," in the German language, means bright and beautiful. Those who overheard the visitors' comments had a bit of a laugh and shared the story with the other locals, who [promptly adopted the name for their village].
Theory # 2: The area in which HELL exists is pretty low and swampy. Traveling through the area would have been wetter, darker, more convoluted, and certainly denser with mosquitoes than other legs of the journey. River traders would have had to portage between the Huron and the Grand River systems near the present location of Hell. You can picture them pulling their canoes, heavy with provisions and beaver pelts, through the underbrush, muttering and swatting bugs as they fought to get to the banks of the next river.
In California, there's a place named ZZYZYX (just the place for a quiet zizz).
Other countries have place names which sound strange to English-speaking visitors. Cuba, for instance, has a town called MORON. It has a population of 50,000. What do they call themselves?
Readers of the Sydney Morning Herald's quirky Column 8 trivia pagecontributed these imaginary yet familiar place names:
Going to Buggery
Drinking in Moderation
Living in Sin
Living in Exile
Living in Poverty
Living in Hope
Dying in Vain
Placed in Jeopardy
Bombing at Random
Escapees at Large
Random has its place in history, says Ian Hunt, of Carlingford. After a foggy night during the World War II blitz, he says, the BBC reported that German planes had dropped their bombs at random in south-east Britain. That afternoon, the German propaganda broadcasts proudly boasted that "the town of Random has been heavily bombed".
We're reminded, too, that in the 1944 northern Burma campaign around Myitkina, the US forces, having captured the airfield, grandly announced they had captured the town, where the Chindits were still fighting. It's said a message went out that the "the British have taken umbrage". The Americans couldn't find Umbrage on the map. -- Sydney Morning Herald.