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The Laugh-out-loud Place-names of the Shetland and Orkney Islands
Dull Flag, Tongue of Gangsta and dozens more strange toponyms dot these windswept Scottish archipelagoes
In The American Language, H.L. Mencken quotes Robert Louis Stevenson's paean to the American toponym: "There is no place in the world where nomenclature is so rich, poetical, humorous and picturesque as the United States […]".
Mencken goes on to list such curious examples as Chemquasabamticook, Jackass Flat, Big Chimney, Stumptown, Matrimony, Walla Walla and Cement. As the lexicographer of the American tongue, he may be forgiven for repeating Stevenson's claim. But the Scottish writer himself should have known better: surely, the greatest density of strange place names per square mile occurs in a small corner of his own country - two archipelagoes off Scotland's northern coast: the Orkney Islands and the Shetland Islands.
These two maps, both produced by Steve Goldman, show the place names in both groups of islands that he considers strange. "I've loved place names on Orkney and Shetland since I was a kid. They are by turns surreal, beautiful, nonsensical, rude, and bizarre… There seems to be no consistency to them at all", says Goldman. “I've done some online research to try to find their derivation, but there seems to be little out there".
Indeed, apart from Mr. Goldman's suggestion to recycle some toponyms as band names (Whirly would be a good indie band, Brethren could be a bearded folk quartet, and Twisting Nevi a dance act, etc), there seems to be little sense to be made from Orkney/Shetland place names, except to enjoy them as mellifluous bizarrery per se.
Naturally, when we stopped laughing, we couldn't resist testing Mr. Goldman's hypothesis, and tried herding these toponyms into a few vaguely circumscribed categories.
As one might expect on a collection of wind-blasted islands lost in the dark, chilly north, a lot of toponyms reflect a fair measure of doom and gloom. There's a Mount Misery, and Muckle Hell. There's Poverty and Grimness and Rumblings. There's a Gutterpool, a Rotten Gutter, a Grotsetter and a Gorehouse. And - of course - a Doomy.
Perhaps this is why the locals liked to imagine themselves elsewhere. In Ireland, Holland or Virginia. There's also a Canada West, and a Balaclava. Even more exotic, are two names of places that must seem rather hospitable from there: Gaza and Moon. One coastal place is called, quite specifically, Mid Dublin.
A remarkable number of places have monosyllabic names. It's as if we've stumbled on the Lascaux Cave of toponymy. We witness how people practised their name-giving skills, learning to vocalise before they could improvise. You can almost hear them scraping their throats as they point to specific locations, baptising them Woo, Too, Bu, Ha, How and Pow. A second set of monosyllabic place names is already more complex, self-aware. The key one is Yell, summarising what went before. A few seem bent on defining primary places, Ur-locations: Fleck, Nest, Junk, Loot, Grid, Gear, Wart. But what about Snap, or Sung? Maybe these are a third, even more evolved set of monosyllabics, one-word poems that transcend the places they denote.
Quite a few places continue with poetic, even grandiose names. There's Papa, and Lady. Pretty and Standpretty. Surreally, there's a (fixed) location called The Trip. How about one called Freedom? Sounds nice. But there's also Gravity, Littleness, Farewell, and a Fitful Head.
Poetry takes a surreal turn in a set of place names that sound like ritual incantations. Some even sound like the Indian place names that form such a substantial part of the melting pot that is Mencken's American topography: Queefiglamo, Quoynalonga Ness and the improbably-named trio Quackquoy, Suckquoy and Quoydandy. Some sound more like the many names of Aboriginal origin on the map of Australia: Willa Minga Honga, Birries Houlla Komba, Kellyan Hellyan, Yeldadee and Choldertoo. Others sound like nothing else but gibberish and gobbledygook - those terms would indeed not be out of place in this set: Hyndgreenie, Insabysetter, Keenabonus, Fografiddle, Helliglobo, Drongi Taing, Loomi Shun and Da Scrodurdins.
Somehow, that last location sounds like it provides a good segway to the significant number of locations with rude or lewd connotations. Were those early Orkneyans and Shetlanders a cheeky bunch? Quite probably, the original meaning has nothing to do with the present, suggestive reading: Moan, Queenamoan and Twatt; Hendry's Holes, Ladies Hole and Mirky Hole; The Rump, Howan Lickan and Longa Tonga; The Lash, Flae-Ass and Cumminess; Peerie Breast and Drooping Point. But then again: what else to do on those long winter nights?
Perhaps the best proof that those islanders are having us on, is a collection of 'X of Y' names. Where X and Y should be replaced by intelligible locator words, as in 'Bay of Bengal', or 'Mouth of the Nile'. Now, Scots toponyms can be a bit puzzling - anyone know what a Mull of Kintyre is? Or a Firth of Forth? (No, it's nothing to do with Colin Firth). But they're taking things to extremes on the Orkneys and Shetlands. What in God's name are Lurns of the Sound? The Ebb of the Riv? The Gump of Spurness? (The Scottish clan ancestors of Forrest Gump?)
Somehow, the Banks of Runabout sounds vaguely like a critique of the financial sector. And the White Stane of Willies might as well have been mentioned in the lewd paragraph. The Taing of the Busy? That's that faint ringing noise that gets inside your head when you've been up for 24 hours straight. Also known as the Head of Work. The Knowes of Euro? The Candle of Sneuk? The Riff of Wasbister? We sort of know what half the name means. But how frustrating to have not even the glimmer of a clue about the Neven o' Grinni, the Sinians of Cutclaws, the Glifters of Lyrawa, or the Quilse of Hoganeap.
If some place names sound like great band names, others could be fantastic stage monikers: Heeeere's Ernie Tooin! And there are Tommy Tiffy and Sandi Sand! Again, Mavis Grind could have made a first appearance three paragraphs up. But who could resist the child-friendly matinee filled out by such glittering names as Genie Fea, Elvis Voe, Funzie Girt, Grunka Hellier and Urie Lingey?
If your tastes in entertainment are more attuned to the joys of rap, then this outpost of Scotland has a few remarkable surprises for you. Notably Da Niggards, Busta Little and, improbably, Tongue of Gangsta.
We could go on. You'll find many more names on the maps. And if you, like us, are the kind of person that remains in their seat until the movie credits have rolled past, just to catch a few fantastic names among the hundreds scrolling by, you'll have lots of fun finding Dull Flag, the Hill of Area, Hulk Waters and Gentleman's Ha.
If the local tourist boards have any sense, they'll put up signs at all of these places, and brace for the throngs of tourists rushing north to get their picture taken next to the ones that say Many Crooks, Flossy Groups and Hoo Kame. And many more...
Strange Maps #608
Got a strange map? Let me know at email@example.com.
Evolution proves to be just about as ingenious as Nikola Tesla
- For the first time, scientists developed 3D scans of shark intestines to learn how they digest what they eat.
- The scans reveal an intestinal structure that looks awfully familiar — it looks like a Tesla valve.
- The structure may allow sharks to better survive long breaks between feasts.
Considering how much sharks are feared by humans, it is a bit of a surprise that scientists don't know much about the predators. For example, until recently, sharks were thought to be solitary creatures searching the seas for food on their own. Now it appears that some sharks are quite social.
Another mystery is how these prehistoric swimming and eating machines digest food. Although scientists have made 2D sketches of captured sharks' digestive systems based on dissections, there is a limit to what can be learned in this way. Professor Adam Summers at University of Washington's Friday Harbor Labs says:
"Intestines are so complex, with so many overlapping layers, that dissection destroys the context and connectivity of the tissue. It would be like trying to understand what was reported in a newspaper by taking scissors to a rolled-up copy. The story just won't hang together."
Summers is co-author of a new study that has produced the first 3D scans of a shark's intestines, which turns out to have a strange, corkscrew structure. What's even more bizarre is that it resembles the amazing one-way valve designed by inventor Nikola Tesla in 1920. The research is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
What a 3D model reveals
Video: Pacific spiny dogfish intestine youtu.be
According to the study's lead author Samantha Leigh, "It's high time that some modern technology was used to look at these really amazing spiral intestines of sharks. We developed a new method to digitally scan these tissues and now can look at the soft tissues in such great detail without having to slice into them."
"CT scanning is one of the only ways to understand the shape of shark intestines in three dimensions," adds Summers. The researchers scanned the intestines of nearly three dozen different shark species.
It is believed that sharks go for extended periods — days or even weeks — between big meals. The scans reveal that food passes slowly through the intestine, affording sharks' digestive system the time to fully extract its nutrient value. The researchers hypothesize that such a slow digestive process may also require less energy.
It could be that this slow digestion is more susceptible to back flow given that the momentum of digested food through the tract must be minimal. Perhaps that is why sharks evolved something so similar to a Tesla valve.
What is Tesla's valve doing there?
Above, a Tesla valve. Below, a shark intestine.Credit: Samantha Leigh / California State University, Domi
Tesla's "valvular conduit," or what the world now calls a "Tesla valve," is a one-way valve with no moving parts. Its brilliance is based in fluid dynamics and only now coming to be fully appreciated. Essentially, a series of teardrop-shaped loops arranged along the length of the valve allow water to flow easily in one direction but not in the other. Modern tests reveal that at low flow rates, water can travel through the valve either way, but at high flow rates, the design kicks in. According to mathematician Leif Ristroph:
"Crucially, this turn-on comes with the generation of turbulent flows in the reverse direction, which 'plug' the pipe with vortices and disrupting currents. Moreover, the turbulence appears at far lower flow rates than have ever previously been observed for pipes of more standard shapes — up to 20 times lower speed than conventional turbulence in a cylindrical pipe or tube. This shows the power it has to control flows, which could be used in many applications."
A deeper dive
Summers suggests the scans are just the beginning. "The vast majority of shark species, and the majority of their physiology, are completely unknown," says Summers, adding that "every single natural history observation, internal visualization, and anatomical investigation shows us things we could not have guessed at."
To this end, the researchers plan to use 3D printing to produce models through which they can observe the behavior of different substances passing through them — after all, sharks typically eat fish, invertebrates, mammals, and seagrass. They also plan to explore with engineers ways in which the shark intestine design could be used industrially, perhaps for the treatment of wastewater or for filtering microplastics.
It could fairly be said, though, that Nikola Tesla was 100 years ahead of them.
The non-contact technique could someday be used to lift much heavier objects — maybe even humans.
- Since the 1980s, researchers have been using sound waves to move matter through a technique called acoustic trapping.
- Acoustic trapping devices move bits of matter by emitting strategically designed sound waves, which interact in such a way that the matter becomes "trapped" in areas of particular velocity and pressure.
- Acoustic and optical trapping devices are already used in various fields, including medicine, nanotechnology, and biological research.
Sound can have powerful effects on matter. After all, sound strikes our world in waves — vibrations of air molecules that bounce off of, get absorbed by, or pass through matter around us. Sound waves from a trained opera singer can shatter a wine glass. From a jet, they can collapse a stone wall. But sound can also be harnessed for delicate interactions with matter.
Since the 1980s, researchers have been using sound to move matter through a phenomenon called acoustic trapping. The method is based on the fact that sound waves produce an acoustic radiation force.
"When an acoustic wave interacts with a particle, it exerts both an oscillatory force and a much smaller steady-state 'radiation' force," wrote the American Physical Society. "This latter force is the one used for trapping and manipulation. Radiation forces are generated by the scattering of a traveling sound wave, or by energy gradients within the sound field."
When tiny particles encounter this radiation, they tend to be drawn toward regions of certain pressure and velocity within the sound field. Researchers can exploit this tendency by engineering sound waves that "trap" — or suspend — tiny particles in the air. Devices that do this are often called "acoustic tweezers."
Building a better tweezer
A study recently published in the Japanese Journal of Applied Physics describes how researchers created a new type of acoustic tweezer that was able to lift a small polystyrene ball into the air.
Tweezers of Sound: Acoustic Manipulation off a Reflective Surface youtu.be
It is not the first example of a successful "acoustic tweezer" device, but the new method is likely the first to overcome a common problem in acoustic trapping: sound waves bouncing off reflective surfaces, which disrupts acoustic traps.
To minimize the problems of reflectivity, the team behind the recent study configured ultrasonic transducers such that the sound waves that they produce overlap in a strategic way that is able to lift a small bit of polystyrene from a reflective surface. By changing how the transducers emit sound waves, the team can move the acoustic trap through space, which moves the bit of matter.
Move, but don't touch
So far, the device is only able to move millimeter-sized pieces of matter with varying degrees of success. "When we move a particle, it sometimes scatters away," the team noted. Still, improved acoustic trapping and other no-contact lifting technologies — like optical tweezers, commonly used in medicine — could prove useful in many future applications, including cell separation, nanotechnologies, and biological research.
Could future acoustic-trapping devices lift large and heavy objects, maybe even humans? It seems possible. In 2018, researchers from the University of Bristol managed to acoustically trap particles whose diameters were larger than the sound wavelength, which was a breakthrough because it surpassed "the classical Rayleigh scattering limit that has previously restricted stable acoustic particle trapping," the researchers wrote in their study.
In other words, the technique — which involved suspending matter in tornado-like acoustic traps — showed that it is possible to scale up acoustic trapping.
"Acoustic tractor beams have huge potential in many applications," Bruce Drinkwater, co-author of the 2018 study, said in a statement. "I'm particularly excited by the idea of contactless production lines where delicate objects are assembled without touching them."
Australian parrots have worked out how to open trash bins, and the trick is spreading across Sydney.
Dumpster-diving trash parrots
In a study about these smart birds just published in Science, researchers define animal culture as "population-specific behaviors acquired via social learning from knowledgeable individuals."
Co-lead author of the study Barbara Klump of the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Konstanz, Germany says, "[C]ompared to humans, there are few known examples of animals learning from each other. Demonstrating that food scavenging behavior is not due to genetics is a challenge."
An opportunity presented itself in a video that co-author Richard Major of the Australian Museum shared with Klump and the other co-authors. In the video, a sulphur-crested cockatoo used its beak to pull up the handle of a closed garbage bin — using its foot as a wedge — and then walked back the lid sufficiently to flip it open, exposing the bin's edible contents.
Major has been studying Cacatua galerita for 20 years and says, "Like many Australian birds, sulphur-crested cockatoos are loud and aggressive." The study describes them as a "large-brained, long-lived, and highly social parrot." Says Major, "They are also incredibly smart, persistent, and have adapted brilliantly to living with humans."(Research regarding some of the ways in which wild animals adapt to the presence of humans has already produced some fascinating results and is ongoing.)
Clever cockie opens bin - 01 youtu.be
The researchers became curious about how widespread this behavior might be and saw a research opportunity. After all, says John Martin, a researcher at Taronga Conservation Society, "Australian garbage bins have a uniform design across the country, and sulphur-crested cockatoos are common across the entire east coast."
Martin continues, "In 2018, we launched an online survey in various areas across Sydney and Australia with questions such as, 'What area are you from, have you seen this behavior before, and if so, when?'"
Word Gets Around
Credit: magspace/Adobe Stock
Although the cockatoos' maneuver was reported in only three suburbs before 2018, by the end of 2019, people in 44 areas reported observing the behavior. Clearly, more and more cockatoos were learning how to successfully dumpster dive.
As further proof, says Klump, "We observed that the birds do not open the garbage bins in the same way, but rather used different opening techniques in different suburbs, suggesting that the behavior is learned by observing others." One individual bird in north Sydney invented its own method, and the scientists saw it grow in popularity throughout the local population.
To track individual birds, the researchers marked 500 cockatoos with small red dots. Subsequent observations revealed that not all cockatoos are bin-openers. Only about 10 percent of them are, and they are mostly males. The other cockatoos apparently restrict their education to a different lesson: hang around with a bin-opener, and you will get supper.
Thanks to the surveys, the researchers consider the entire project to be a valuable citizen-science experiment. "By studying this behavior with the help of local residents, we are uncovering the unique and complex cultures of their neighborhood birds."
The few seconds of nuclear explosion opening shots in Godzilla alone required more than 6.5 times the entire budget of the monster movie they ended up in.