January 15, 2000

I've made reference before to Rensselaer professor Amos Eaton and his student field trip along the newly-opened Erie Canal in 1826. On May 9th, after touring the Yates Academy in Chittenango, they made their way west and stopped for the night in Manlius. It had not always been called that, as student Asa Fitch noted in his journal on the return trip. Early settlers here had been a bunch of drunken, carousing, rowdies, and the name Fuddletown had become attached. Now, of course, the sober, hardworking villagers were doing their best to be sure the old name was completely forgotten.

We can't blame them. Most of us fine, upstanding citizens would prefer not to live in places with unflattering names - names such as Skunk Sweat, Leech Elbow, or Lyme Tick. (I am making those up, by the way). A look at New York State, for example, will come up with a number of place names that just weren't distinguished enough to stay unchanged. Bullhead became Bridgehampton. Butt End made a slight improvement and became Bovina. Cow Neck (nowhere near Bovina) became Manhasset. Fish House was less appealing than Northampton. Taterville became Rensselaer Falls, Wormly opted for Caton.

Not everyone is as sensitive to living in towns with odd names. Looking outside New York we find Accident, Maryland; Bald Knob, Arkansas; Dooms, Virginia; Dwarf, Kentucky, to name a few. And if the townspeople of Intercourse, Pennsylvania, can learn to live with that name, what's the fuss about Fish House?

Which brings us to a recent New York Times article on politically correct language in Canada, and cases there of carrying the policy to extremes. It's reported that the Toronto District School Board has drafted a human rights law, banning students from making jokes about the city. Now most of us don't care to have outsiders make disparaging remarks about our town or city; that's a right we reserve for ourselves. It's to be hoped these super-sensitive censoring souls of the school overseers end up not having their way.

Some of us relish living in places with colorful names. One neighborhood name here in Rochester, New York, seems to be having a renaissance. Swillburg is coming back into use, even in the city's newspaper. Speaking of swill, some people in Toronto also know to make lemonade when life hands them a lemon. At one time the people of Montreal sneeringly gave the much newer, more rustic city of Toronto a putdown name. Did Toronto care? Not everyone. Do an Internet search on the nickname today and you'll come up with the dance band Big Daddy and the Hogtown Horns, the Hogtown Brewing Company, and the New Hogtown Press.

For Classical ninety-one five, this is David Minor.


Speaking of Bald Knob, Arkansas...

Did you ever imagine being plunked down in the middle of a town that was completely unknown to you, and having the fun of wandering around, getting to know the place? U. S. listeners of Wisconsin Public Radio's Michael Feldman, and his weekly radio program Whad'YaKnow? have had that experience, and now you can too. Just go to Michael's Town of the Week. Whether it's Bald Knob; Hazard, Kentucky; Barberstown, Ohio; Veedersburg, Indiana, or larger, more familiar towns and cities like Portsmouth, New Hampshire or Fairbanks, Alaska, you'll get a mini vacation without leaving your keyboard. Town profiles for the past two years are available on line. You can also explore other features of WYK, and even download audio software and hear for yourself.

If you enjoy the TimeMaster Scripts I think you'll enjoy Whad'YaKnow.


The years 1889-1892 have been updated.

© 2000 David Minor / Eagles Byte