Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Place Names and Body Parts

John Steinbeck and Edward F. Ricketts, Sea of Cortez: A Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research (1941; rpt. New York: Penguin Books, 2009), pp. 53-54:
Names attach themselves to places and stick or fall away. When men finally go to live in Antarctica it is unlikely that they will ever speak of the Rockefeller Mountains or use the names designated by breakfast food companies. More likely a name emerges almost automatically from a place as well as from a man and the relationship between name and thing is very close. In the naming of places in the West this has seemed apparent. In this connection there are two examples: in the Sierras there are two little mountains which were called by the early settlers "Maggie's Bubs." This name was satisfactory and descriptive, but it seemed vulgar to later and more delicate lovers of nature, who tried to change the name a number of times and failing, in usage at least, finally surrendered and called them "The Maggies," explaining that it was an Indian name. In the same way Dog ----- Point (and I am delicate only for those same nature lovers) has had finally to be called in print "The Dog." It does not look like a dog, but it does look like that part of a dog which first suggested its name. However, anyone seeing this point immediately reverts to the designation which was anatomically accurate and strangely satisfying to the name-giving faculty.
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