Derivation by deletion of punctuation

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There's a little lake near here called Sob Lake. I only recently learned the etymology of this name. According to Akrigg and Akrigg's British Columbia Place Names, the lake was originally named by a survey party. Finding the homesteader who lived nearby obnoxious, they recorded their opinion of him by naming the lake "S.O.B. Lake". The authorities in Victoria, however, felt that this was improper and bowdlerized it to "Sob Lake" by removing the periods.


  1. Ray Girvan said,

    October 11, 2008 @ 8:14 am

    That sounds kind of apocryphal.

  2. Lazar said,

    October 11, 2008 @ 12:47 pm

    It reminds me of the story that Nome, Alaska was so named because they didn't have a name for it and somebody wrote "Name" next to it on a map.

  3. Bill Poser said,

    October 11, 2008 @ 5:32 pm

    That sounds kind of apocryphal.

    Maybe, but there are certainly true stories that are weirder. The Akrigg's book seems to be pretty accurate judging from the cases that I know about. It isn't oneof those amateur works that exercises no judgment regarding etymologies. The male Akrigg (Philip) was Professor of English at the University of British Columbia and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society of Britain. The female Akrigg (Helen) was President of the British Columbia Historical Association. Unfortunately, it doesn't give references, so it isn't easy to track down their sources.

  4. Ray Girvan said,

    October 11, 2008 @ 9:32 pm

    Maybe, but there are certainly true stories that are weirder.
    Agreed. It's just that there's a flavour to apocryphal placename etymologies and surveying team stories. The Tsar's Finger. Tales I've heard from way back about Scottish mountains having obscene names in Gaelic because locals were having a joke at the expense of cartographers. It may well be true. But, as with the Nome story, it still has that flavour.

  5. Tony McGovern said,

    October 12, 2008 @ 4:12 am

    Then there is Mt Nameless near Tom Price in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. Some feel inspiration must have failed after the naming of nearby Mt Bruce and Mt Sheila.

  6. Richard Ashdowne said,

    October 12, 2008 @ 6:22 am

    Evelyn Waugh picked up on the humorous possibilities of this aspect of toponymy in Scoop (II. 1. 2):

    ‘They talked about Ishmaelia. “No on know if it’s got any minerals because no one’s been to see. The map’s a complete joke,” Bannister explained. “The country has never been surveyed at all; half of it’s unexplored. Why, look here,” he took down a map from his shelves and opened it. “See this place, Laku. It’s marked as a town of some five thousand inhabitants, fifty miles north of Jacksonburg. Well, there never has been such a place. Laku is the Ishmaelite for ‘I don’t know.’ When the boundary commission were trying to get through to the Sudan in 1898 they made a camp there and asked one of their boys the name of the hill, so as to record it in their log. He said, ‘Laku,’ and they’ve copied it from map to map ever since. President Jackson likes the country to look important in the atlases, so when this edition was printed he had Laku marked good and large. The French once appointed a Consul to Laku when they were getting active in this part of the world.”’

  7. Simon Cauchi said,

    October 12, 2008 @ 10:30 am

    There's a slip in the Evelyn Waugh reference. It should read II. 1. 12.

  8. Bill Poser said,

    October 12, 2008 @ 5:23 pm

    I have actually seen an example like Waugh's Laku case. I once reviewed place names recorded by an anthropologist who did not know the language. One of them didn't make any sense until I realized that it was a garbled rendering (the anthropologist didn't have much training in phonetics either) of the Carrier for "I don't know".

    A similar example occurs in the census that the Catholic Church did of Saik'uz village back in the 1870s. The census was done by priests who had at best a rudimentary command of Carrier. Several women are recorded as having been named something like "tsandelh". This is not a name: it's the word for "widow".

  9. Jon Weinberg said,

    October 12, 2008 @ 10:53 pm

    The Nome story, cute as it is, may not actually be wrong. Professor George Davidson set it out in this 1901 letter, and it's not so inherently implausible that one should dismiss it out of hand.

    (Another scholar, writing in 1905, disputed Davidson and suggested a version of the Laku story: ki-no-me, he wrote, was the indigenous expression for "I don't know.")

  10. Dennis Brennan said,

    October 13, 2008 @ 3:05 pm

    I have heard the same story (word or place name is a mishearing of the local language's rendition of "I don't know") in relation to the words "Kangaroo" and "Yucatan".

  11. Nathan Myers said,

    October 13, 2008 @ 4:05 pm

    We have other good examples close to home (well, some homes).

    In Oregon, in the Columbia River gorge, is a favorite picnic spot next to a very prominently phallic rock formation known locally as "Cock Rock". When the picnic spot was made an Oregon state park, it was named "Rooster Rock State Park". The rock does not resemble a rooster in any way, so the correct local name is routinely reverse-engineered correctly by first-time visitors, often with a bit of tittering.

  12. Tim Baehr said,

    October 15, 2008 @ 7:46 pm

    Novi, Michigan, was a stop – number six, or No. VI, on the railroad.

  13. Everything You Know About English Is Wrong » Atlas Shirked said,

    November 22, 2008 @ 10:11 pm

    […] know" (ki-no-me) goes back to 1905 at least. A 1901 letter by George Davidson (recently noted here by Jon Weinberg) provides another popular theory, that the map notation ? Name was misread as C. […]

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