BORIO-BOOLA-GHA.

A reader writes:

The other day the expression “borio boola gha” popped out of my subconscious and just sat there, so I looked it up, and find myself puzzled about its origins. It’s not in Brewer’s Dictionary, at any rate… I half suspect maybe a music hall song lyric, but I have not found the origin.

Here are the earliest of the examples she turned up, from archive.org and Google Books:
From Harper’s magazine, December 1867 to May 1868:

I mean some day to marry somebody who will indulge my likings; and how am I to find him in this benighted place, where the only men I meet are schismatic fledgelings, every other one preparing himself for the Gaboon mission or Borio-boola Gha? Do I look like a female missionary? No, I thank you!”

From Lichen Tufts: From the Alleghanies, 1860:

And this was not in Tartary, nor “Borio-boola Gha,” nor in the dark ages, but in the United States, in the middle of the nineteenth century.

So does anybody know where this piquant expression originated?

Comments

  1. It’s right next to goona goona.

  2. Googling reveals a source in ‘Bleak House’ (extracted from a page linked by Google):
    ‘In “Bleak House,” Charles Dickens presented the character of Mrs. Jellaby, who let her own children starve while she focused on raising funds for the Africans of Borrio-boola-Gha.’
    Where Dickens got it is another question.

  3. Bleak Huse is 1853, so far the earliest.
    Oddly, the “Goona Goona” I remember by the Four Lads is a different “Goona Goona”, and has almost disappeared from human memory.
    “Goona goona” also has a non-specifically smutty meaning.

  4. Trond Engen says:

    I have no idea but (as if it were the slightest bit helpful) I can offer a possible parallel:
    In Norwegian there’s an expression “langt uti/inni/borti/neri/oppi Hutaheita” (or “-i”) (“Far out/in/away/down/up in Hutaheita”). It’s anywhere far away or off track, from the shrubbery where you end when you miss a turn in the road to the jungles of Congo.
    I had always taken it to be a nonsense name for a parodic Norwegian backwater, with variation reflecting the Norwegian language landscape. The female definite ending -a is in many real placenames. The version with the apparent archaic feminine ending -i felt slightly more parodic. I even knew a girl from Bergen, whose dialect lacks the feminine gender, saying “Hutaheiten”.
    I remember the surprise when I first encountered the spelling ‘Otaheiti’ for ‘Tahiti’ and suddenly saw the origin.

  5. I think Bleak House is a winner: Dickens presumably made it up (he was good at funny names), and it was picked up by the Zeitgeist. My correspondent’s search only picked up the versions with an -r- dropped. Thanks!

  6. …raising funds for the Africans of Borrio-boola-Gha.
    Ah, so next door to Bongo Bongo, then.

  7. Brian Thomas says:

    I believe it comes from Bleak House, which was serialized in 1852 and ’53. It was the remote region where Mrs. Jellyby, the last word in obnoxious philanthropy, was intent on doing good works — while her own children languished.

  8. Brian Thomas says:

    I believe it comes from Bleak House, which was serialized in 1852 and ’53. It was the remote region where Mrs. Jellyby, the last word in obnoxious philanthropy, was intent on doing good works — while her own children languished.

  9. I remember the surprise when I first encountered the spelling ‘Otaheiti’ for ‘Tahiti’ and suddenly saw the origin.
    That’s similar to the English “He’s gone to Timbuktu”. I remember being surprised when I found out there really was a Timbuktu.

  10. I remember the surprise when I first encountered the spelling ‘Otaheiti’ for ‘Tahiti’ and suddenly saw the origin.
    That’s similar to the English “He’s gone to Timbuktu”. I remember being surprised when I found out there really was a Timbuktu.

  11. Otaheite is simply the name Tahiti with the particle o (‘voila, voici‘) cliticized to it. Similarly, we have Owhyhee for o Hawai’i, which still survives in some place names in the continental U.S. and in the trivial names of some birds.

  12. Oops, didn’t mean to save quite yet.
    I first ran into the name, somewhat differently spelled, in the Devil’s Dictionary:

    PRESENTABLE, adj. Hideously appareled after the manner of the time and place.

    In Boorioboola-Gha a man is presentable on occasions of ceremony if he have his abdomen painted a bright blue and wear a cow’s tail; in New York he may, if it please him, omit the paint, but after sunset he must wear two tails made of the wool of a sheep and dyed black.

  13. I remember being surprised when I found out there really was a Zamboanga (from the song “The monkeys have no tails in Zamboanga”).

  14. It’s beyond the black stump.

  15. There’s no Constantinople, though.

  16. There’s no Constantinople, though.

    Istanbul was Constantinople

    Now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople

    Been a long time gone, Constantinople

    Why did Constantinople get the works

    That’s nobody’s business but the Turks

  17. These are great! I don’t know any of the ones mentioned so far, but my mother calls any remote place “Japip” and UCLA students c. late 1990s used BFE, short for “Butt F— Egypt” (origin unknown in both cases). The Arabic equivalent is fii waaqi l-waaq or fi l-waaqwaaq, that is, on a fabled island where human heads grow on trees. In modern Egyptian Arabic people say fi l-hiww, “in the abyss.”

  18. Not only does Timbuctu exist, so does Auchenshuggle.

  19. Wm. Burroughs says “Upper Baboonasshole”.
    Zanzibar and Samarkand also are real today.
    In Persia Balkh is supposedly the end of the world, though it’s still Persian.

  20. In Norwegian there’s an expression “langt uti/inni/borti/neri/oppi Hutaheita” (or “-i”) (“Far out/in/away/down/up in Hutaheita”).
    In Swedish, that is usually Tjottahejti, although I have heard Tjottahejtan.

  21. In Finnish, the usual expression these days is “Huitsin Nevada”, i.e. the Nevada of Huitsi. “Huitsi” itself is a nonsense word often used in similar expressions such as “huitsin helvetti”, i.e. “the Hell of huitsi/Huitsi”.

  22. The Arabic equivalent is fii waaqi l-waaq or fi l-waaqwaaq, that is, on a fabled island where human heads grow on trees.
    There’s a discussion of Waqwaq Island here (“In Arabian Nights, Hasan al-Basri is told by his guide, ‘You could not gain access to the Islands of Waqwaq even if the Flying Jinn and the wandering stars assisted you, since between you and those islands are seven valleys, seven seas and seven mountains of vast magnitude’”).
    In Finnish, the usual expression these days is “Huitsin Nevada”, i.e. the Nevada of Huitsi. “Huitsi” itself is a nonsense word often used in similar expressions such as “huitsin helvetti”, i.e. “the Hell of huitsi/Huitsi”.
    Sounds suspiciously similar to Hutaheita and Tjottahejti.

  23. MattF: Wait! There’s more.
    That particular page mispells it as “Borrio…”. Googling “Borioboola” finds multiple book confirmation that it was Dickens’ satirical nickname for Lokoja, the location of a model farm set up with high ideals “to grow coffee and educate the natives”, that failed through lack of understanding of local agricultural conditions. According to African affairs, Volume 59, Dickens was having a particular dig at the “Philanthropic Experiment” – the fiasco of the 1841-42 Niger Expedition.

  24. Re BFE: Jesse Sheidlower’s new edition of The F-Word has Bumfuck, Egypt from 1972 (a U.S. Army source). Bumblefuck and BFE show up in Pamela Munro’s 1989 list of UCLA slang.

  25. The stories about Waqwaq go back over a thousand years, to the Arab and Persian stories of the sea-route to the East.
    I’ll plug two sources, one available as a PDF, in case someone might be interested. The books are fascinating, albeit somewhat overwhelmng. They are the history behind parts of the fictional “Arabian Nights”, though they include their own share of legend.
    Reinaud, J., tr., Relation des Voyages faits par les Arabes et les Persans, dans l’Inde et la Chine dans le IXe siecle de l’ere chretienne, Paris, 1845
    and
    Ferrand, Gabriel (tr.), Relations de Voyages et Textes Geographiques Arabes, Persans, et Turcs Relatifs a l’extreme-orient du VIIIe au XVIIIe siecles, Paris, 1914.
    Link: http://ia311007.us.archive.org/3/items/relationsdevoyag1a2ferruoft/relationsdevoyag1a2ferruoft.pdf

  26. mispells it as “Borrio…”
    Oops: belay that part. It is indeed “Borrio…” in Bleak House It’s “Borio..” that appears as a variant.

  27. Here’s a real link.

  28. Goena-goena is pronounced goona-goona, and it is, or used to be, the Silent Force that the Indonesians used against the colonial Dutch, causing them no end of slow, unidentifiable but very sure trouble. You know the sort of thing, the Tropics sapping the strength of the European and delivering his wife to her passions, that where unhealthy to start with. P.A. Daum and Louis Couperus wrote books about it.

  29. A. J. P. Crown,
    Timbuktu was a surprise for me too!
    As was Kachenjunga, after a childhood spent reading Arthur Ransome.

  30. Sara’s description of ‘goena-goena’ reminds me that ‘Polish jokes’ probably originate in centuries of subjugation of Poland. Poles reacted to overlords’ commands by acting stupid, which caused ‘no end of slow, unidentifiable but very sure trouble’.

  31. Polish and Czech, via Hasek’s Svejk.
    The Muslim chrinicles I referred to speak of Tibet and Korea as two places where, if someone goes there, they become very happy and never come back. Muslim version of Shangri-La.

  32. In China, it’s Peach Blossom Spring (oddly, there’s no Wikipedia article on it, just a pathetic paragraph in another article).

  33. Per Jørgensen says:

    In my neck of the woods of Norway, at least among my age group, we’d say “gokk” as in “borti gokk” rather than “hutaheita.” No idea how local that was or where it came from. Anyone else heard it?

  34. Charles Perry says:

    To judge from “The Wonderful World of Barry MacKenzie,” a cartoon strip that appeared in the British magazine Private Eye in the Seventies and was notable for its colorful Australian slang (particularly terms for barfing, such as “laughing at the ground” and “parking a tiger on the rug”), a proverbial Australian expression for a remote place was “out to Woop Woop.” I seem to remember Wagga Wagga (which is a real place) being used in the same sense.

  35. Trond Engen says:

    Gokk
    That too. But I never had the same experience of revelation with that as with Huttaheita. I think Gokk usually is somewhere far north where many of us go to do military service. The word sort of sounds like it could be based on a shortening of one or more Sami originals.

  36. mollymooly says:

    “East Bumfuck” is in the dialogue of “Rain Man”. I had no idea it was protypically in Egypt as opposed to the “middle of nowhere”. In Ireland, the middle of nowhere is Ballygobackwards.

  37. Katchenjunga never reappeared after my Arthur Ransome years, I don’t know if it got renamed or what.
    Barry MacKenzie was written by Barry Humphries, I think.
    For years I got Wagga Wagga confused with Walla Walla. Of course they are on opposite sides of the world, so silly me.

  38. My security software is telling me that Emerson’s link has four viruses, including two trojans.

  39. “East Bumfuck”
    But “bum” means something different in American English, it’s a hobo. In the 70s the local “Buttfuck, Egypt” quickly became shortened to “Boofoo, Egypt”.

  40. michael farris says:

    Polish has some fun words and expressions for remote and/or isolated locations.
    pipidówka – this may or may not contain a reference to a part of the female anatomy (one of the nicer colloquial words for it)
    wypizdówek – most certainly contains a very obscene reference to part of the female anatomy (though the word is grammatically masculine)
    zadupie – (literally ‘beyond ass’)
    these three all typically refer to isolated, small villages or towns where there’s nothing much to do but leave.
    There’s also
    gdzie pieprz rośnie – where the pepper grows (more an unknown but far away place)
    gzie diabeł mówi dobranoc – where the devil says ‘goodnight’ (more like zadupie I think but stresses the remoteness)

  41. On Kanchenjunga (among many spellings): Swallowdale (the second of Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons book) was published in 1931. The children in the book name the mountain they climb (presumably Coniston Old Man) after Kanchenjunga, probably because the Nepalese/Indian mountain had been recently made famous by F. S. Smythe’s book The Kanchenjunga Adventure, an account of a 1930 attempt on the peak by an international expedition.

  42. Nijma, there’s always some risk when you go to Goona Goona, if you know what I mean.
    Though the Four Lads song was quite innocuous. It was the classic Goona Goona song that was smutty.

  43. John, your computer is still up? Seriously, my Norton antivirus identified us.archive.org as an unsafe site, with some rather naughty names for the 4 viruses and trojans. I doubt the names would get past even Hat’s filters. No way am I going to open that site. Maybe you want to get your software debugging slave to run spybot-search-and-destroy or bitdefender or something. [free downloads both]

  44. JE, if that was the song “By goona-goona lagoon,” try these links instead. Goona-goona From “The Golden Apple” (can play a short preview). Here’s the lyrics. And since you mention the Four Lads, they did do “Not Constantinople”, but the cartoon version is more fun.

  45. In the dialect of American Yiddish I was exposed to, there’s “Yechuppetzville.”
    When my brother decided to attend a small liberal arts college in southern Minnesota, this was the epithet my relations used for the town where that college was located.

  46. Re “Japip”: It’s in DARE as a Mid-Atlantic regionalism:
    http://books.google.com/books?id=eEB0YFR2EowC&pg=PA73&dq=japip#v=onepage&q=japip&f=false

  47. Here‘s the direct link; it’s s.v. Jabib, with Jabip and Japip as alternate forms, and the stress is on the second syllable.

  48. A Quebec humor magazine named Croc, now bankrupt, thought of Drummondville, Quebec as the end of the world. Not distant, just stupid.
    Drummondville is francophone, BTW, lest anyone get a wrong impression.

  49. And Croc was also francophone, in case you still have the wrong impression.

  50. Theophylact says:

    Michael Chabon’s working title for The Yiddish Policemen’s Union was Hotzeplotz:

    It’s set in the Alaskan panhandle, in the present day, in the territory that was opened to the Jewish refugees of Europe, after Congress passed the King-Havenner Bill of 1940. The precarious balancing act of this Yiddish-speaking nation-within-a-nation is imperiled by the discovery of a mysterious skull in a construction site, and the novel unfolds as its protagonist, a homicide detective named Meyer Landsman, investigates. “Hotzeplotz” is the name of a real town in the Ukraine or someplace, but it’s used in the Yiddish expression “from here to Hotzeplotz,” meaning more or less the back of nowhere, Bumfuck, Iowa, the ends of the earth.

  51. I did a little research on Hotzeplotz (trying to figure out if there was in fact such a “real town in the Ukraine or someplace”), and was surprised to find out that the main character of Le Peintre exigeant (1910), a one-act comedy by Tristan Bernard, was M. Hotzeplotz. Then I visited Bernard’s Wikipedia page and discovered that he was Jewish, so it’s presumably no coincidence. Anyone know anything more about this intriguing name?

  52. Aha, it’s the name of a town in Silesia. Social and Religious History of the Jews, Volume 14 (1200-1650): Catholic Restoration and Wars of Religion by Salo Wittmayer Baron on page 390 refers to the Jewish community of Hotzenplotz, which seems to be an alternate spelling (earlier sources, like this one, have Hotzeplotz).

  53. marie-lucie says:

    Since I did not know much about Tristan Bernard, a French writer who just about straddled the i9th and 20th centuries, I followed LH’s link to his Wikipedia page. I was surprised to discover that one of his prose works (as opposed to plays) is called Mémoires d’un jeune homme rangé (1899) “Memoirs of a proper young man”, obviously the inspiration for the similar title by Simone de Beauvoir which I mentioned a short while ago, Mémoires d’une jeune fille rangée which should have been translated as “Memoirs of a proper young lady>” (rather than “Memoirs of a dutiful daughter”).

  54. Amazing what you can learn around here.

  55. The German writer Otfried Preußler wrote three children’s books about the robber Hotzenplotz. According to German wiki, he chose the name of the town in Silesia for his character because he remembered it from his childhood.
    In German, there is also the expression “wo der Pfeffer wächst” (where the pepper grows), but it’s specifically used for a far away place where you wish somebody else would go so you’re well rid of him/her: Geh doch dahin, wo der Pfeffer wächst! The German a capella group Wise Guys sings quite a funny song about it which you can find on YouTube.

  56. Another fictional place is Oke-She-Moke-She-Pop. Can you guess where it is and who invented it? The answer will be found here. Not that it will tell you where it is (since it’s fictional) so much as where it might be, and what other places the names is modeled on.
    A related phenomenon is the not-so-far-away town that people in various cities treat as a semi-legendary hicksville or nowheresville, like Timbuktu, but much closer. No one ever actually meets anyone from these places, but they mock the residents anyway. The two examples I know are Pungo if you’re in the Norfolk, Virginia area — it is (or was 35 years ago) a tiny place way out in the swamps towards the North Carolina line. My mother told me that people in her home-town, Decatur, Illinois, made fun of Boody, which MapQuest tells me is 6-8 miles southwest. In each case, the funny-sounding name probably helped distinguish the place from all the other hicksvilles and nowheresvilles in the vicinity.

  57. Well, they grow pepper in Hainan and I’d love to be there right now!

  58. There are remote places and then there are remote places. Perth is one of the most remote capital cities on earth. But if you are referring to someone who lives in a distant suburb you would say they live in South Geraldton (Gerladton being some 400 km north of Perth). Anyone from “the country” lives in Woop Woop.
    In Croatian a non-sensical far-away place is Tunguzija. (the syllable guz = “bum, bottom” gives it a slightly comical effect). Only later did I find out that there are real people called the Tungus in Siberia who speak the Tungusic languages.

  59. David Marjanović says:

    I thought East Bumfuck was in Texas?

    Timbuktu was a surprise for me too!

    Me three.

    gzie diabeł mówi dobranoc – where the devil says ‘goodnight’

    Wo sich Fuchs und Hase gute Nacht sagen – where fox and hare say each other goodnight, so far away that even biology is different from over here.

    these three all typically refer to isolated, small villages or towns where there’s nothing much to do but leave.

    French: superbled, en France profonde.
    German: Arsch der Welt “ass of the world”; Hintertupfing “East Bumfuck, Austria” (though without proctological connotations).

    Tunguzija

    ROTFLMAO!

  60. marie-lucie says:

    French: superbled, en France profonde.
    Un superbled must be a noun, like un (petit) bled (the word bled is a borrowing from Algerian Arabic). An older word is un trou, literally ‘a hole’. Both bled and trou can be reinforced with the adjective perdu ‘lost’. The name of such a God-forsaken place is traditionally Trifouilly-les-Oies: the sequence -ouill- always sounds somewhat funny, and les Oies means ‘geese’, so “Trifouilly of the geese”, a name evocative of an old-fashioned farmyard, with a connotation of amused contempt. But you wouldn’t use this name as a replacement of that of a specific small village, which you had forgotten.
    En France profonde seems to me very general for ‘in rural areas’. For a traditional prepositional reference (perhaps now hopelessly old-fashioned) to a more specific but still vague location there is au diable, literally ‘at the devil’s’, meaning “in the middle of nowhere.”
    In Canadian English you can use “in the boondocks” for a similar place far from urban civilization but still inhabited (eg not “in the bush” which means ‘in a forested area’).

  61. In Canadian English you can use “in the boondocks” for a similar place far from urban civilization but still inhabited
    In American English as well.

  62. “Out in the sticks” and “out in the tules” (pr. toolies) also work.

  63. marie-lucie says:

    LH, thanks, I was not sure how far in the continent this phrase extended.
    JE: Is “out in the sticks” general North American, or is it mostly West Coast? It is possible that it derives from Chinook Jargon, like a few other colloquial phrases.

  64. Sticks in famous headline.

  65. I’m too lazy to look it up, but I’ve read that ‘boondocks’ comes from a Tagalog word and was brought back to the U.S. by military men. If so, Canadians almost certainly got it from the U.S.

  66. michael farris says:

    I always said ‘out in the boondocks’ as a kid, often shorted to ‘out in the boonies’.
    I would assume that it was spread by this:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mVPJvk4t6SQ

  67. “Sticks” is generic, I think. “Toolies” (tules) might be Californian.

  68. andersoncooper says:

    In Argentina we refer to those kinds of places as ‘el culo del mundo’.

  69. The place I come from (near JE’s beloved Wobegon) is so far out in the sticks, out in the boonies, out in the toolies, they roll up the sidewalks at nine o’clock at night.
    Instead of “far out” we used to say “farm out”. Instead of “outta sight, it was “outta state”.

  70. @language hat:
    “refers to the Jewish community of Hotzenplotz, which seems to be an alternate spelling (earlier sources, like this one, have Hotzeplotz).”
    Take a look at the map on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hotzenplotz
    Osoblaha (current Czech name) is almost the futherst village in Czech Republic.

  71. Terry Collmann says:

    Time again for my favourite Ali Farka Toure quote:
    “For some people, when you say ‘Timbuktu’ it is like the end of the world, but that is not true. I am from Timbuktu, and I can tell you we are right at the heart of the world.”
    (Sleevenotes to the CD Talking Timbuktu, 1993)

  72. David Marjanović says:

    the word bled is a borrowing from Algerian Arabic

    …where, I’ve read, it means “wasteland”, as it originally did in French (military jargon). And a Foreign Legionary who did his service in the desert was a blédard, linguistically interesting for two more reasons (the Frankish suffix -ard, and the recently upcoming rule that [ɛ] is limited to closed and [e] to open syllables).

  73. marie-lucie says:

    the recently upcoming rule that [ɛ] is limited to closed and [e] to open syllables
    Put another way: closed syllable : open vowel [ɛ], vs open syllable : closed vowel [e]. This has been a general tendency in Metropolitan French for a long time. It is the reason for the difference in the second vowel of préférer ‘to prefer’ or (vous) préférez ‘(you) prefer’, which is [e], and that of (je, etc) préfère ‘(I, he/she, etc) prefer(s)’, which is [ɛ].
    Of these two front vowels, the closed vowel never occurs in a closed syllable, but in many words the open vowel does occur in open syllables especially in careful speech or in conservative varieties (eg Canadian French of all levels of education). But the dialectal mixture and levelling influencing current “Parisian” pronunciation, including the influence of Southern French (which has an Occitan substrate with fewer vowels than Northern French) is contributing to the generalization of the rule to the exceptional cases. For instance, De Gaulle used to address the nation as Françaises, Français ‘French women, French men’ with an open [ɛ] in the second syllable of both words, but Chirac (a Southerner, although not with a very typical accent) used Françaises (with [ɛ]), Français (with [e]). (I have not listened to Sarkozy).

  74. marie-lucie says:

    the Frankish suffix -ard
    It is true that this suffix is a leftover from the Franks (who defeated the Romanized Gauls and eventually merged with them), but it has been naturalized for centuries. It is usually somewhat pejorative, as in un richard ‘a rich man (negative connotation)’ as opposed to just un riche (same meaning but neutral connotation), un chauffard ‘a bad driver, esp. a drunk driver’ (as opposed to un chauffeur ‘a driver’), un clochard ‘a bum, eg sleeping iunder bridges’.

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