HANDS OFF BROWN WILLY.

This little squib from the Telegraph is basically an excuse to publicize a bunch of naughty-sounding place names (and “This is not the Soviet Union” is pure Torygraph—hey, guys, there hasn’t been a USSR for over twenty years now), but I enjoy naughty-sounding place names as much as the next language lover, and I thoroughly agree with the point about names being what the people use and not what bien-pensant betters think they should be, so I’m passing it along:

The people of Cornwall, or some of them, want to change the name of Brown Willy on Bodmin Moor, at 1,378ft, the highest point in the Duchy. The motive is to stop people sniggering. It is pointed out that in Cornish the name is Bronn Wennili, “hill of swallows”, which has pleasant associations. But can place names simply be changed? This is not the Soviet Union. Places are what people call them. If we are the first generation of adults who, like the comic book character Finbarr Saunders, see double entendres everywhere, what is to become of Great Cockup and Little Cockup in Cumbria; Crapstone, Devon; Penistone, South Yorkshire; Brokenwind, Aberdeenshire; Shitterton, Dorset; North Piddle, Worcestershire; Nether Peover, Cheshire; Slack Bottom, West Yorkshire; Pratts Bottom, Kent; and Titty Hill in West Sussex?

Thanks, Paul!

Comments

  1. As I think I might have said before, Shillington in Bedfordshire was Shitlington until 19th century prudery rendered it non-copronominative.

  2. If they rename Brown Willy, they are also going to have to rename the Brown Willy Effect.

  3. A blog recently mentioned Piddletrenthide, on the River Piddle.
    There suddenly occurred to me “Mony a piddle maks a puddle”. Sadly, nobody applauded. Feel free.

  4. We are always mildly amused by Pissy Poville in Normandy.

  5. Graham Asher says:

    The phrase ‘”This is not the Soviet Union” is pure Torygraph—hey, guys, there hasn’t been a USSR for over twenty years now’ is pure Language Hat. Hey, guy(s), the Telegraph knows about the fall of the Soviet Union, but is making a legitimate comparison with the way they renamed St. Petersburg, Nizhniy Novogorod, Yekaterinburg, etc.

  6. I lost interest in Piddletrenthide after learning that it is pronounced essentially as written, and not, say, “Puntidge” or “Pilchet”.

  7. There suddenly occurred to me “Mony a piddle maks a puddle”.
    *applauds*
    the Telegraph knows about the fall of the Soviet Union, but is making a legitimate comparison with the way they renamed St. Petersburg, Nizhniy Novogorod, Yekaterinburg, etc.
    Except that 1) the renaming is for completely different reasons, and 2) why do you suppose they used the Soviet Union as a point of comparison rather than the thousands of other entities that have changed place names officially over the centuries?

  8. Dearieme: Applause!

  9. why do you suppose they used the Soviet Union as a point of comparison rather than the thousands of other entities that have changed place names officially over the centuries?
    Thousands of other entities? It is well known that the Soviet Union and Imperial China were egregious destroyers of traditional names. The Soviets for obvious reasons, the Chinese for reasons related to the prerogatives of the ruling class and a high culture of auspicious naming. How many other entities have a predilection for wholesale renaming?
    The comparison with the Soviets is a valid one, if only from the point of view (which you are free to disagree with) that ‘We in the UK have a tradition of keeping our old names as they are, unlike other people (especially politically unsavoury ones) who go in for wholesale changes by decree’. The same goes for Common Law and the lack of a Constitution, which result from accretion and gradual change, not sudden top-down sweeping reforms. As far as I can tell this is the UK self-image, and whether you disagree with it or not, their point is valid in those terms.

  10. Bathroom: ‘We in the UK have a tradition of keeping our old names as they are”
    Haha. The very name ‘UK’ is a reworking, a 17-18c coinage (presumably), invented for political reasons.
    Moving fractionally off topic, I have terrible trouble trying to find England in international lists. Where is it hiding this time: Britain? Great Britain? United? UK? British Isles? Very occasionally it’s actually under E.
    Back to willies, I’m surprised to see that there isn’t anything in the OED from before 1905 for the penis meaning:

    2.2 slang. An infantile name for the penis. Also Comb., as willy-warmer.
       1905 Eng. Dial. Dict. Suppl. 178/2 Willy, the male organ; a slang name for a child’s penis. Cum., Wm.    1972 Listener 22 June 841/3 The gallant soldier-boys are afflicted with ‘syph, darling’ (‘their willies rot away’).    1975 Observer 7 Dec. 27/3 Joky gifts are speechlessly embarrassing; this season’s dud is a woolly willy-warmer.    1977 J. Wilson Making Hate ix. 113 A younger male [baboon]‥fingered its crimson penis.‥ ‘It’s playing with its willie!’ Nicky squealed.    1985 P. Angadi Governess x. 93 We used to hold each other’s willies.‥ We didn’t know about sex then.

    If it’s not much older than 1905, you’d think there would be an explanation for the usage, like with ‘bobby’ for policeman. What is a willy warmer? Is it a furry condom?

  11. When I worked in the BC Geographical Names Office in the seventies and sixties, there was a ‘name of record’ that had been around since the 19th century but never ‘adopted’ for use on government maps because it was thought to be offensive.
    The feature was a tidal whirlpool and the name was Devil’s Hole. I see that it has been ‘adopted’, but without the appostrophe.

  12. What is a willy warmer? Is it a furry condom?
    Being a “joky gift”, it may simply have been a narrow knitted or crotcheted sleeve.
    I may have invented this item by chance, long before the “1975 season” referred to in the citation. In the late 50s in El Paso, our Mexican maids did a lot of crotcheting in their off time. I was fascinated by this technique, and tried to learn it by making “doilies” using string. Unfortunately, no one told me how to add extra loops as the things get bigger, ensuring that they remain flat (if that’s how you do it, as occurred to me later). So my doilies always turned into sleeves.

  13. It’s a good thing I failed to learn how to crotchet, otherwise I might have ended up as a sex worker rather than a volunteer.

  14. marie-lucie says:

    Grumbly: add extra loops as the things get bigger, ensuring that they remain flat (if that’s how you do it
    Yes, that’s exactly it. And if you add more loops than needed to get the thing flat, you get a bigger surface, that won’t lie flat either but become wavy. It would be the same principle if you had learned to knit rather than crochet (but crochet is more versatile).
    I think there is a mathematical formula (or maybe more than one) to describe these possibilities for transforming a flat surface.

  15. I never did find out whether “Slick Willy” was as apposite a description for Americans as it was for Britons. Was it?

  16. J.W. Brewer says:

    “Slick Willie” is the more common spelling of the sobriquet in the U.S., and that used by the self-proclaimed coiner of the expression, although he mentions in this retrospective column http://www.jewishworldreview.com/cols/greenberg062504.asp that there may have been a pool hall somewhere in Arkansas back in the day named Slick Willy’s. In my own experience (although I can’t claim to have conducted actual fieldwork) “willy” in the sexual-slang sense is not really part of the AmEng lexicon any more than e.g. “wank” and its derivatives, except insofar as people make self-conscious use of Briticisms they have learned from media/pop-culture sources.

  17. I agree with JWB.

  18. the sexual-slang sense
    The thing about “willy” is that up until very recently it has been exclusively non sexual in usage; a little-boy’s word that I, for instance, stopped using before the age of ten. The US equivalent may be “pee-pee”. That made it funnier when it began to be used as sexual slang.

  19. It would be superfluous, at this point, to mention Normal IL, Oblong IL, and Intercourse PA.

  20. Also, a lot of much ruder names are camouflaged in the decent obscurity of a non-English language: the hill of Devil’s Peak in Scotland, whose Gaelic name is “Pob an Diabhail” (which isn’t the Gaelic for Devil’s Peak). And all those sea stacks called the Old Man of Hoy, the Old Man of Storr etc.

  21. I’ll see your Intercourse, PA, and raise you Martin Parr’s series on Boring, OR.

  22. And let’s not forget Big Bone Lick, KY. (In case you’re wondering, it’s a big salt extrusion where the mammoths laid their bones.)

  23. ahem von bladet says:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gropecunt_Lane
    i assume the massed harrumphers of the shires will also be anxious to have this one restored?

  24. ‘As ee forgotten ‘ow to do HTML, there in the fens of diaryland?

  25. The British names are, for many of us, quaint and fun. Some Australian place names are less so.
    There was a mountain called Mt Niggerhead in NW Victoria that was eventually renamed to Mt Jaithmathangs in 2008.
    There are still places called Black Gin Creek Rd (Alton Downs, near Rockhampton) and a Nigger Creek (near Wondecla, Queensland). ‘Gin’ is a word for an Aboriginal woman, (perhaps) not originally offensive but now regarded as very offensive.
    The word ‘nigger’ was also widely used in U.S. and Canadian place names, although most seem to have been changed (see Wikipedia).

  26. I suppose I should mention that my own real-world name (Tom Goodwillie) has occasionally been tittered at when I was visiting the UK.

  27. mollymooly says:

    I think the US equivalent of “willy” is “peter”, though maybe “percy” is a better UK match for that.

  28. des von bladet says:

    i forget nothing! but i am typing with one hand ((on account of a broken finger) and i thought monsieur’s spam trap might think even unkindlier of such strings in a so-called “hyperlink”.

  29. Ah, my apologies! I have had a broken finger, and I know it is not a pleasant experience.

  30. Then there are the Cargados Carajos Shoals, which are actually on world maps under that name.

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