Frank’s Compulsive Guide to Country Addresses.

Frank’s Compulsive Guide to Country Addresses isn’t directly language-related, but of course different countries have different languages and writing systems, and this maniacally detailed guide to addressing international mail deals with them, quoting recommendations like “Addresses in Russian, Greek, Arabic, Hebrew, Cyrillic, Japanese, or Chinese characters must bear an interline translation in English of the names of the post office and country of destination. If the English translation is not known, the foreign language words must be spelled in roman characters (print or script).” Really, though, I’m bringing it to your attention because it’s jam-packed with fun facts, like “Another piece of Russia, the villages of Sankova and Medvezhe, lies inside Belarus.” Or this:

IRAN: Iranian addresses are written in “major to minor” order, town at the top, followed by street address, then addressee. The postal code is important because there are many cases of duplicate street names in the same city, even a few duplicate building numbers in the same street. 10 digit postcodes are needed to identify the correct location in such cases.

Duplicate building numbers in the same street! Why?? Or this:

Falkland Islands inhabitants often find that their letters have transited the postal systems of places such as the Faroe Islands, Iceland or the most popular destination for lost Falklands mail, Falkirk in Scotland.

Or the whole UK mess:

What should be the name of this section? THE UNITED KINGDOM AND IRELAND (as it was once labeled), while technically correct if IRELAND is taken as the name of the country and not the island, can easily be misconstrued. THE UNITED KINGDOM AND THE REPUBLIC OF IRELAND would not be correct since there is no country whose name is REPUBLIC OF IRELAND. THE UNITED KINGDOM AND ÉIRE is correct (two non-overlapping countries) but it contains a mixture of languages. Hence BRITAIN AND IRELAND (two non-overlapping islands) – perhaps not quite adequate either since it might not encompass the various associated outlying islands. […]

GREAT BRITAIN is a term that means different things to different people. Canada Post uses it as their only recognized name for the United Kingdom. Webster’s dictionary defines “Britain” as “the island of Great Britain”, and defines Great Britain as “(a) island comprising England, Scotland, and Wales, or (b) United Kingdom” (which in turn is defined to include Northern Ireland). The Encyclopedia Britannica says “Technically, Great Britain is one of the two main islands that make up the British Isles. By this definition it includes the countries of England, Scotland, and Wales. Popularly, Great Britain is the shortened name for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.” The OED says that Great Britain is “the whole island containing England, Wales, and Scotland, with their dependencies”. William Wallace says, however, that the term “is actually a remnant of the Norman Conquest times, and was used to distinguish between Large Britain (Grande Bretagne) and Little Britain (Petite Bretagne, Brittany). It has nothing to do with Empire or world domination and simply refers to the time when the island was administered and fought over by the French.” In any case, the ambiguity of the term Great Britain – is it a country, an island, or a group of islands? – suggests it is best avoided.

Or, from this linked subsite:

Shropshire came into existence as a unit of government in the early 10th century. The oldest known form of the name of the county is SCROBBESCIRE, the shire belonging to SCROBBESBYRIG, the Saxon name for Shrewsbury. After the Norman Conquest the county’s new rulers adopted the forms SALOPESCIRE and SALOPESBIRY. The word SALOP, applying both to the county and the county town, survived from the middle ages as an alternative English form, having originally been abbreviated from the Norman French. A Latin form, SALOPIA, was commonly used in documents in the 16th century, and in subsequent centuries legal records refer to the County of Salop rather than to Shropshire. The new authority established in 1974 under the Local Government Act of 1972 was officially named Salop, but this was altered to Shropshire with effect from 1st March 1980.

And I will note that in my editorial capacity I noticed a typo in this Russian address (“Междунродный” should be Международный):

Чичикову П.И.
Междунродный Центр Научной и Технической Информации
ул.Куусинена 21-Б
125252 г.Москва
MOSCOW
RUSSIA

Via MetaFilter.

Comments

  1. marie-lucie says:

    the time when the island was administered and fought over by the French.

    The Norman Conquest was not the “French Conquest”. The Normans (Northmen) were Vikings a few generations back, who had been given the territory of “Normandy” in exchange for no longer raiding the coasts of France. By the time of the conquest they were French-speaking but they were not “the French” as a nation, they were officially vassals of the king of France but largely ignored him. The king had no say or involvement in the conquest, which was the result of a dynastic dispute among former Vikings living on both sides of the Channel. Later a royal marriage brought half of France under English domination, and as a result it was not Britain that was fought over, it was France.

  2. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    The first house I had in England (1971-1977) had B31 1ND as its postcode. From time to time letters from the USA arrived with “Missent to Indianapolis” rubberstamped on them. That was easy to understand, but once I had one that had been “missent to Wake”.

  3. A letter sent from Connecticut to the North Shore of Long Island (separated by about twenty miles of water), I was once told, took six weeks to arrive, and when it arrived it was stamped “Routed in error to the Bahamas”. (There are towns named Nassau in both places, which was probably the source of the error.) The person who told me this story said that what surprised him was not so much that the letter was routed in error to the Bahamas, but that this happens often enough to require a stamp.

  4. @marie-lucie: There was certainly a period following the Norman conquest in which French nobles (many, but not all of them of at least partial normal descent). The culmination of this was the Anarchy, in which two families of the Frankish nobility fought over who had the stronger dynastic claim to the Normal possessions. This was basically just a spillover of the frequent fighting on the mainland into the recently acquired possessions in Britain. At the height of his power, Henry II was such an effective leader that he precluded further incursions against his British possessions; his battles against the other French lords thus took place entirely on the continent. But as the Angevin empire collapsed under his son John, the French did briefly take the fighting back to English, and the future Louis VIII invaded England in 1215, becoming a major figure in the First Baron’s War.

  5. In any case, the ambiguity of the term Great Britain – is it a country, an island, or a group of islands? – suggests it is best avoided.

    For my part, I think of Great Britain primarily as a descriptor for the non-Irish parts of the UK, thus including Wight, Anglesey, the Hebrides, Shetland, Orkney and so forth – just as I’d consider Cuba to include the Isla de la Juventud in all but the strictest scientific contexts.

    @ACB: The atoll?

  6. Bathrobe says:

    When I tried to send a letter within China (to myself, actually, to test if letters would get to me), I was told that letters within China could only be addressed in Chinese. Letters addressed in English were only accepted from overseas. I didn’t try writing the address in pinyin (romanised Chinese) and I’m not sure whether they would have accepted it or not.

    Overseas mail goes through sorting centres where there are people who can (partially) rewrite the address in Chinese to enable the mailman to deliver it. I’ve had the delivery of mail sent from overseas delayed for several months, and some that didn’t arrive at all.

  7. David Eddyshaw says:

    A letter was once successfully delivered to me addressed only with my name and the city I was living in. While this is admittedly not as surprising as if I were called Smith (and the city was no Megalopolis), I was both impressed and somewhat unsettled by the omniscience of the Post Office.

  8. marie-lucie says:

    Brett, thank you for the additional information. I understood that the problems caused by some nobles having possessions or claims on both sides of the sea took a while to be resolved, but to say that England was “administered and fought over by the French” is an exaggeration.

  9. January First-of-May says:

    A letter was once successfully delivered to me addressed only with my name and the city I was living in. While this is admittedly not as surprising as if I were called Smith (and the city was no Megalopolis), I was both impressed and somewhat unsettled by the omniscience of the Post Office.

    Well, after all, as recently as a century ago, many countries still had addresses along the lines of “city, street, name of landlord, name of tenant”. (And the modern Nicaragua address system isn’t much better.) Somehow post was successfully delivered anyway.
    And half a century ago, a feat much like what you are describing would have easily been done with the assistance of a phone book. I’m not sure if phone books (whether printed or electronic) still exist today, but if any place still had them it would be the post office.

    Averchenko wrote a great satyrical essay (in Russian) on the confusing (to him) house numbering system in Istanbul (of the 1920s, presumably); he claimed that the house owners must have picked the numbers they liked the look of better. I have no idea how much of that essay was based on reality.

  10. per incuriam says:

    THE UNITED KINGDOM AND IRELAND (as it was once labeled), while technically correct if IRELAND is taken as the name of the country and not the island, can easily be misconstrued
    […]
    THE UNITED KINGDOM AND ÉIRE is correct (two non-overlapping countries) but it contains a mixture of languages

    This doesn’t add up: the terms IRELAND and ÉIRE are precisely co-extensive, in their respective languages, each denoting the island and the state alike.

    The British tried for many years to impose “Eire” – in English – as the name of the state as distinct from the island. The policy was compliantly followed by their media and – since the British media is rather more influential than the Irish – the term then spread to other languages and countries. So even though the British government has now officially come to terms with “Ireland” and though “Eire” is little used in Britain these days it lives on elsewhere (hence the misunderstanding above). It is much favoured by French sports journalists, for example, as witnessed in the Euros. Their continuing fondness for the term may of course have something to do with the rich punning possibilities it offers….

  11. Narmitaj says:

    “Duplicate building numbers in the same street! Why??” –

    I don’t know why, but something similar happened to a place I knew, which was the Emir Fahd bin Abdul Aziz Building, an apartment block on rue Madame Curie in Beirut. I lived there for 10 years as a child, and was friends with a chap called Tony at the same level in a new apartment block built next door in the mid-60s. 40+ years later we re-connected on Facebook, not long after Tony had made a return visit to Beirut and he told me _his_ apartment block was called the Emir Fahd bin Abdul Aziz Building!

    It may be that the name transferred – my building is now called the Rawdah building – or that there were two of the same name at the same time. But it is a bit odd.

  12. Trond Engen says:

    And the modern Nicaragua address system isn’t much better.

    Just a slice further south is Costa Rica, where a friend of mine was an exchange student in the 1980’s. After a few weeks in San José he came to a town in the province of Alajuela. I remember his post address was “50 m norte de la estación de ferrocarril”.

  13. January First-of-May says:

    Having read the entire article, I’m surprised by the relative inattention to the former USSR (aside from Russia and Ukraine).
    There’s literally nothing (not even name-dropping) on the unrecognized states of Transnistria, Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia (nor on Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk, though these are perhaps too recent developments). Nakhichevan, the world’s largest landlocked exclave, is not mentioned either.

    Unrelatedly, one weird story involving postal addressing happened to me in Pionersky, Kaliningrad Oblast…

    My mother was sending a parcel of assorted books we bought in Kaliningrad, which were too heavy to lug back on the train, to our home in Moscow. The postal form had an entry for “address of sender” (presumably so that letters could be returned to sender). The first time over, the post office workers told us “just use your own address”, so we used our own address… in Moscow (pretty much identical, with a minor difference in apartment number because we owned two neighboring apartments and our official address included both).
    By the time we needed to send a second parcel (of assorted extra clothes, as I recall) a few days later, we’ve already been told that a parcel addressed from Moscow to Moscow turning up in Kaliningrad raises too many questions, and that we should better use the address of the place we stayed at.
    …We stayed at the suburban dacha of a family we knew, on the outskirts of Pionersky. Even they had no idea what their address was.
    What did we do? The dacha building was on a spur off the main road out of Pionersky. The first two houses on that spur had street signs labeling them as 26a and 26b [said main road’s name], respectively. So we counted the houses on that spur until the dacha – I can’t recall now if it was fifth or sixth – and when the time came to write the sender address, we confidently wrote down 26e, [that same road], Pionersky.
    (Both parcels arrived successfully. Both are still standing unopened in the far corner of my room, several years later, but that’s another story.)

    EDIT: The Gibraltar address example reminded me of when I had to provide my address in a Secret Santa game, and the organizer told me to give, among other things, city, county, and state (or something equivalent, probably more generic; I can’t recall how it was phrased). I told that it probably doesn’t apply well to my case, the organizer said to write down something anyway.
    So that section ended up as “Moscow City, Moscow, Federal City of Moscow”. Sadly I have no idea what ultimately ended up on the envelope – the letter never reached me that year.

  14. SFReader says:

    I looked at the article and immediately discovered a mistake in section on China.

    Nei Mongol is not the Pinyin name for Inner Mongolia.

    It should be Nèiménggǔ or Nei Menggu without tone marks.

    Nei Mongol looks like unfortunate mixture of Chinese and English (or perhaps Chinese and Mongolian)

  15. I’ve seen “Nei Mongol” used by many sources, though. Britannica even gives it as the “Official Chinese” name in contrast to the “Pinyin” name, so I think it’s the official preference of the Chinese government.

  16. David Marjanović says:

    …all the way to Neimongosaurus.

    omniscience

    Oh, that reminds me: how do you pronounce that? 🙂 With unreduced science, or mashed together like in conscience? Or, in other words, does the stress go on the first or the second syllable?

  17. Trond Engen says:

    /om’niSens/, my son confidently said the other day, when my wife and I was discussing whether it was /”omni’saiens/ or /om’niSi”ens/.

  18. January First-of-May says:

    I personally would probably put the main stress on the third syllable, and a secondary stress on the first syllable (something like Trond Engen’s /”omni’saiens/, if I understand that system correctly).

    But I don’t think anything about the pronunciation of my L2 English is particularly useful when I hadn’t even been to any English-speaking country. I’ve ended up with quite weird opinions about English pronunciation previously.

  19. SFReader says:

    Such partial romanizations look extremely odd.

    It’s like calling Ulster ‘Northern Eire”…

  20. The draft (English-language) Irish constitution used only “Éire”; at the last minute the name was changed to “Éire or, in the English language, Ireland”, and references to “Éire” were mostly changed to “Ireland” or “the state”, though one “Éire” in the preamble was retained for metaphysical reasons known only to de Valera. Within a year or two, de Valera had decided to deprecate use of “Éire” in any language other than Irish, but by then it had taken root in the UK and elsewhere.

    The 1922 constitution consistently referred to “the Irish Free State (Saorstát Éireann)”; the 1937 constitution consistently referred to its predecessor state as “Saorstát Éireann”.

    Since 1998, the phrase “island of Ireland” has become the de facto official standard in the republic for [republic+Northern Ireland]; an uncooperatively literal interpretation would restrict this to the mainland, excluding Aran, Rathlin, and other offshore islands.

  21. Oh, that reminds me: how do you pronounce that?

    It’s om-NISH-ence; this isn’t a matter of dialect or preference, there is no alternative pronunciation.

  22. The British dictionaries do give [ɒmˈnɪsiəns], though.

  23. And that’s how I (BrE) pronounce it, [ɒmˈnɪsiəns], which is odd if there is no such pronunciation. And it can’t be my dialect, or even my preference. So what the heck is it?

  24. Oh, yeah, sorry, I didn’t mean to exclude that, which is simply the UK equivalent of the pronunciation I gave; I was saying that there is no /”omni’saiens/, which was what people were talking about.

  25. Wikipedia lists AmE /sɪ/ — BrE /ʃ/ for:-

    cassia, Cassius, Dionysius, hessian, Lucius, (ne/omni/pre)science/-ent, Theodosius

  26. Yep, sorry, didn’t mean to sound narked: a feeble attempt at humour, I’m afraid.

  27. Oh, you didn’t sound narked, but I wanted to clear that up, because I realized I hadn’t even thought of that common difference.

  28. That Wikipedia list has some weirdnesses, not surprisingly. But I see that using /ʃ/ in nausea and transient is known to Merriam-Webster. I wouldn’t have expected any unvoiced variants, just /zi/ and /ʒ/.

  29. I use /ʃ/ or /si/ in transient (predominantly the former, I think).

  30. Rodger C says:

    As early as tenth grade I noticed that Shakespeare, in Julius Caesar, scans “Cassius” sometimes with two syllables and sometimes with three:

    Come, Antony, and young Octavius, come,
    Avenge yourselves alone on Cassius;
    For Cassius is aweary of the world.

  31. But that may be more /sj/ than /ʃ/, just as Octavius would have something like /vj/ there.

  32. Obviously, my “AmE /sɪ/ — BrE /ʃ/ for” above should read “BrE /sɪ/ — AmE /ʃ/ for”

  33. It was so obvious I didn’t even notice the switch!

  34. per incuriam says:

    but by then it had taken root in the UK and elsewhere

    Of course there’s rather more to it than that. To quote from Wikipedia:

    “The United Kingdom insisted on using only the name “Eire” and refused to accept the name “Ireland”. It adopted the Eire (Confirmation of Agreements) Act 1938 putting in law that position. At the 1948 Summer Olympics the organisers insisted that the Irish team march under the banner “Eire” notwithstanding that every other team was marching according to what their name was in English” etc.

    Whatever De Valera’s fiddling, he can hardly be blamed for spreading the kind of confusion evident in Frank’s Compulsive Guide as he couldn’t conceivably have intended the term to be adopted in English with a meaning at odds with the Irish.

    After the republic was declared the British promulgated a new misnomer, “Irish Republic”, which unlike “Eire” – and despite the terminological ceasefire at official level – is still perpetuated in the UK media.

  35. I think it’s quite common to blame someone for the unintended consequences of their fiddling. Of the draft text, de Valera said “Wherever it occurs in the English text Eire is referring to the State”, which makes it at least conceivable that he “intended the term to be adopted in English with a meaning at odds with the Irish”.

    After the First Inter-Party Government declared the republic in 1949, it used “Republic of Ireland” as much as possible; when de Valera returned to power in 1951 he reverted to “Ireland”. The British only ever used “Irish Republic” unofficially; officially they used “Republic of Ireland” until 1998.

  36. Me, I think it should be “republic of Ireland” and “Irish republic”, both describing the only republic on the island of Ireland. Of course that could change if the Republic of Dál Riata came to pass. But since neither Scots nor N’Irons have a problem with the Queen, I should think it would instead be “the United Kingdom of Scotland and Northern Ireland”, or “the UK” for short. In either case, that pleasant semi-Nordic country in the north of the EU.

    Supposedly the former MP for Shetland and Orkney, when asked to list his nearest railway station on an expense report, wrote “Bergen, Norway”.

  37. January First-of-May says:

    Supposedly the former MP for Shetland and Orkney, when asked to list his nearest railway station on an expense report, wrote “Bergen, Norway”.

    This might well have been technically true, depending on where exactly he lived – I don’t know much of the specific geography, but Norway isn’t that far from the Shetlands, and IIRC there isn’t much railway in mainland northern Scotland either.

    There have actually been regular ferries between Bergen and the Shetlands until a few years ago (as far as I can tell they stopped operating in 2007), so it might not even have been that much of a nonsensical statement, either.

  38. Trond Engen says:

    There used to be a ferry service Hirtshals-Bergen-Lerwick-Tórshavn-Seyðisfjörður. The line is still operative, but they decided to stop serving Bergen and Lerwick. I wish I’d taken the opportunity at least once, but I never imagined it would disappear.

  39. “In the house of such and such” system of imperial Russia isn’t limited to mail. In the real estate title documents, it’s also “between houses of such and such and across the lane from the public bath”

  40. I would love to also see some info on lost airline baggage.

    I have had a very hard time understanding the routing. Perhaps because (unlike mail) it requires (after the first few mistakes) the quickest intersection of intersecting flights.

  41. per incuriam says:

    Of the draft text, de Valera said “Wherever it occurs in the English text Eire is referring to the State”, which makes it at least conceivable that he “intended the term to be adopted in English with a meaning at odds with the Irish”

    Nice link. Rash of me to use the word “conceivably” – there can’t have been much that wasn’t conceivable in that mind of his. Nonetheless, the text ultimately adopted enshrines “Ireland” as the English name and it seems unlikely that travaux préparatoires in the Oireachtas could constitute even a remote source of the current use of “Eire” in the likes of L’Equipe or La Gazzetta.

    The British only ever used “Irish Republic” unofficially; officially they used “Republic of Ireland”

    At the most formal level it may have been “Republic of Ireland” (in matters where the Irish themselves would presumably have used “Ireland”), but “Irish Republic” was certainly in official use, even in legislation (as Wikipedia confirms).

  42. David Marjanović says:

    the Republic of Dál Riata

    A salomonic solution to Northern Ireland! And I’m so stealing the term “psephological innovations”.

  43. The Eire/Ireland confusion is deliberate; one side is very definitely trying, for political reasons, to conflate “Ireland” the large, damp, roughly oval island in the north-west Atlantic, with “Ireland” the republic whose capital is Dublin and whose territory covers part but not all of said island, and the other side is as determinedly trying, for equally political reasons, to draw a clear distinction between them.

    “Ireland” and “Romania” are also about the only countries whose short-form name is identical to their long-form name (unlike Germany/The Federal Republic of Germany, say, or Mexico/The United States of Mexico).

  44. I don’t know much of the specific geography, but Norway isn’t that far from the Shetlands, and IIRC there isn’t much railway in mainland northern Scotland either.

    The nearest British railhead to Lerwick is Thurso, on the north tip of Scotland (near John O’Groats) – northern Scotland basically has one line, north up the east coast from Inverness to Thurso, with the occasional diversion inland to cater for 19th century landlords. It’s 220 km away. Bergen, on the other hand, is 358 km away. The North Sea is quite wide. So it’s a nice story but not accurate.
    The other similar story is that Shetland is closer to Oslo than it is to Edinburgh; also not true, by about 200 km difference. Though it is a good deal closer to Oslo than to London…

  45. Jim (another one) says:

    “SALOPESCIRE”

    Does this mean what it sounds like? Was that a word already in Vulgar Latin?

  46. Trond Engen says:

    I have wondered if English (or South English) may have had retroflex /l/. Or maybe Norman French had it, leading to them misinterpreting English /r/. At least it seems that /l/ and /r/ were confused in some positions. Salisbury <- Sarum is another case in point.

  47. Bathrobe says:

    I think I say /ˈtrænziənt/.

  48. So do I.

  49. Using Gogol’s character names in Russian address examples is a nice touch. Does he do anything similar for other countries/languages?

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