from the world's big
The Joy of Sad Place Names
The scattered toponyms that delight us by their unvarnished expression of downheartedness, defeat and despond.
Victors don't just write the history books. They make the atlases too. Places are named and cities are founded by strong-willed go-getters. They've seeded our maps with the rush of exploration and the joy of conquest.
Toponymy generally isn't the province of the melancholy or the morose. They would make terrible explorers and conquistadores. Most days, they don't even make it out of the house — let alone to that nameless continent across the horizon.
That's why the register of global place names is skewed toward optimism and progress. Yet there is a small, scattered number of toponyms that delight us by their unvarnished expression of downheartedness, defeat and despond.
One Instagram account, appropriately named @sadtopographies, is uniquely and solely dedicated to collecting these sad place names, pinning their Google Maps likenesses on the webpage like so many depressed butterflies.
All by itself at the end of a road, Alone seems a test case in self-reference. Except that it is in Italy, and you probably should pronounce it a-LOH-nay. Which does sound a bit more cheerful.
This cove isn't even good at being bad. It's just unfortunate, as if it's the one slight disappointment in a family of rather adequate, merely sufficient coves.
None of these four Sorrow Islands is even visible. Perhaps they drowned in their own tears?
The Slough of Despond is a figure of speech. But there really is a Mount Despair, in Montana. Perhaps a nice destination for your next team-building weekend. Or perhaps not.
Not likely that this was the original, official name. But sometimes those are crowded out by particularly appropriate colloquialisms, however blunt.
Does this lead to the Suicide Bridge?
No buried treasure here. Nor sandy beaches. And no palm trees either.
Samuel Beckett's favourite holiday destination.
The Instagram page lists quite a few more sad place names, such as Gloomy Lake (Ontario), Melancholy Waterhole (Australia) and Uncertain (Texas). But there must be more sad topographies out there. In fact, Toon Wassenberg, who sent in the link to a story on the above Instagram account, also shared one he found himself.
Casing the joint on Google Street View, Tristesse, not far from Cork in Ireland, appears to be an ordinary bungalow on an unremarkable road, surrounded by a wild hedge. What goes on behind those walls?
And here are a few we found:
Defeated, Tennessee. The town sign should read: "Now completely spoils-free."
Morose Street, in an otherwise generally sunny and cheerful Lemon Grove (California).
Slap bang in the centre of Berlin, this Niederlagstraße – "Defeat Street."
Update 13 October
We've received a few interesting additions to the selection above – many in the comments section below (my favourites: the Antarctic islands of Inexpressible and Reluctant). Also: Niederlagstrasse apparently doesn't quite mean 'Defeat Street', as one or two German-speaking readers have pointed out.
"Niederlagstraße in Berlin does not refer to Niederlage (defeat) – would have been spelled with one more e – but to Niederlag (literally, though archaic: “to lay down”). This is a historic term for a place where merchants had (or were allowed) to put down their wares", writes Folkard Wohlgemuth. Okay, I will admit my Niederlage. Without further ado: more sad topographies!
David Slauenwhite pointed out not one, but two examples of a Skunks Misery Road, one in Millerton in upstate New York (pictured; possibly continuing into nearby Pine Plains), the other in Locust Valley, a hamlet of Oyster Bay (on Long Island). In fact, there are two more roads commemorating musteline misfortune: in Franklin, Vermont and Templeton, Massachusetts.
Stephen McCavour refers to Mount Misery, on the Kingston Peninsula in New Brunswick (Canada). There are in fact a few other topographical features also called Mount Misery, one in Voluntown, Connecticut and another one in Pemberton Township, New Jersey. Oh, and yes, all you Tolkienistas, there is also a Mount Doom. Or at least a Doom Mountain, in Brooks Peninsula Provincial Park on Vancouver Island, British Columbia (Canada).
Leif G. Malmgren mentions Verdens Ende, Norwegian for 'World's End' – a tourist attraction at the end of a peninsula south of Oslo. “Once, it was a small world”, he says. Indeed. There are plenty of other World's Ends, no less than eight in the UK (plus three pubs, plus a movie named after such a pub), two in the U.S., and one in Australia and Sri Lanka each.
Anton Sherwood points to Leidig Court in Hayward, California. 'Leidig' is German for 'sorrowful'. Fortunately, you only have to cross West Tennyson Road to get to Lustig ('joyful') Court.
Damien Rudd, who runs the @sadtopographies Instagram account mentioned in the blog, was kind enough to say thanks for the article – and to point out that there really is a literal Slough of Despond, in Georgian Bluffs, Ontario.
Marc A. Criley reports that in Alabama, there is a Dismals Canyon, “the only known habitation of the dismalites, a fly whose larval form emit a bright blue-green light to attract food and mates”.
From Austria, Paul Herzberg (“I live fairly near Windpassing, though that's not particularly sad”) points out the existence of Äußere Einöde ('Outer Wasteland'), not far from Einöde bei Villach ('Desolation near Villach'). I suppose that makes the first, Villach-less desolation the more desolate of the two.
In Australia, says Shane McEwan, there is a Cape Grim, overlooking Suicide Bay. The story attached to both names is quite grim, though nothing to do with suicide: “Suicide Bay got its name after European shepherds massacred an Aboriginal tribe and threw their bodies off the cliff. They named the site of the massacre Victory Hill. A fine example of history (and cartography) being written by the victors”.
Also in Australia, sent in by Andrew Brown: Lake Disappointment, so named by the explorer Frank Hann in 1897. He noticed creeks in the area flowing inland, but found salt flats instead of a freshwater lake.
From a salty setback to a foggy one: “Cape Disappointment at the mouth of the Columbia River on the Washington side is the foggiest place in North America as well as having a sad name”, says SounderBruce.
Jorge sent in Useless Bay ('Bahia Inutil') in Chile, as well as a few other sad, strange places – a Futile Lake in Canada, and Nameless Place ('Bezimyane') in Donetsk oblast, Ukraine.
Lowell G. McManus lives less than two miles from Desolation Row, in Radar Base, Texas.
Karin Hosking reveals the existence of a Doubtful Sound in New Zealands's South Island – balanced out by a Doubtless Bay on the North Island.
Finally, Andrew Porter points us in the direction of the Canadian town of Porters Lake, Nova Scotia, where you'll find This Street, That Street and The Other Street. While that does not sound as bad as some of the other names above, imagine living there, and having to provide directions to your house.
Update 18 October
Even more sad toponyms!
"You missed this wonderful confluence of toponymic and cartographic sad place names", says Tom Williams, referring to Mount Disappointment, in the San Gabriel Mountains in Los Angeles. He quotes its interesting history:
Mount Disappointment has a summit elevation of 5,963+ feet (1,818+ m). It was named "Disappointment" in 1894 when USGS surveyors sighted it from the Santa Susana Mountains, believing it to be the highest point in the immediate area, decided to use it as their next triangulation point. When they reached the summit, however, they discovered that San Gabriel Peak half a mile (0.8 km) to the east was 167 feet (51 m) higher and so moved there instead.
A Nike missile site was located there in 1955 and the summit was flattened to accommodate it. The missile site was abandoned in 1965. The mountain top is now an important telecommunications site for both commercial and government organizations.
"Having been to both locations mentioned below, I can say that San Gabriel Peak is definitely more satisfying".
James Williams – any relation? - has some info on another area in California: "In the course of a long work project on the history of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, I came to discover that it was a region bursting with odd/baffling/amazing place names. An artificial watercourse called Telephone Cut, for instance. (…) My favorite is Widows Island, which is now a body of water encircled by the levees that used to maintain the island as dry-ish land. A few miles to the northeast is Disappointment Slough, just around the corner from Hog and Spud islands".
Sara Byrd points to Boring, Tennessee – a toponym so joylessly stale that it almost makes you want to go have a look at all that municipal misery. Other kinds of misfortune are to be found at Yucky Run Road in Moorefield, West Virginia and Smelley Road in Longview, Texas, she says.
Update January 2017 - even more sad(-ish) place names:
“There is a very short street in North Little Rock, AR called Endsquick Court”, writes Billy BobX.
“Similar to the streets of Porters Lake, Nova Scotia, Lake Jackson, TX has a variation of the same theme”, says David Karesh, pointing out This Way and That Way on a local map.
How could you miss Death Valley in California, ask Cynthia and Mark Hall-Patton. “As the local county museum administrator, I am also particularly taken with Forlorn Hope Spring in Southern Nevada, near Boulder City”, adds Mark, Administrator at the Clark County museum system.
Jennifer Roberts has a peculiar story from eastern Québec: “This cape was named Cap d'Espérance (Cape Hope) by Jacques Cartier, and had a rather capricious naming history. Its name was shortened to Cap Despera, then mistranslated into English as Cape Despair and again into French as Cap Désespoir (Cape Despair) until the end of the 19th century. The village was then named Cape Cove and Anse-du-Cap until the Geographical Commission adopted the toponym Cap d'Espoir in 1953”.
The pithiest contribution is by Dave Johnson, who simply writes: “Pity Me, County Durham, UK”.
Got any more? Let me know at email@example.com.
Strange Maps #744
Emotional intelligence is a skill sought by many employers. Here's how to raise yours.
- Daniel Goleman's 1995 book Emotional Intelligence catapulted the term into widespread use in the business world.
- One study found that EQ (emotional intelligence) is the top predictor of performance and accounts for 58% of success across all job types.
- EQ has been found to increase annual pay by around $29,000 and be present in 90% of top performers.
Evolution doesn't clean up after itself very well.
- An evolutionary biologist got people swapping ideas about our lingering vestigia.
- Basically, this is the stuff that served some evolutionary purpose at some point, but now is kind of, well, extra.
- Here are the six traits that inaugurated the fun.
The plica semilunaris<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NjgwMS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMTgyMzg1NX0.ZY8qmhtoZfbRMAqrNnmbgyk7GLabglx_9lBq3PKcy7g/img.png?width=980" id="99882" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="68e8758894b0359c6ef61b2c158832b2" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The human eye in alarming detail. Image source: Henry Gray / Wikimedia commons<p>At the inner corner of our eyes, closest to the nasal ridge, is that little pink thing, which is probably what most of us call it, called the caruncula. Next to it is the plica semilunairs, and it's what's left of a third eyelid that used to — ready for this? — blink horizontally. It's supposed to have offered protection for our eyes, and some birds, reptiles, and fish have such a thing.</p>
Palmaris longus<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NjgwNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMzQ1NjUwMn0.dVor41tO_NeLkGY9Tx46SwqhSVaA8HZQmQAp532xLxA/img.jpg?width=980" id="879be" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="970e9c15f3c3d846dde05e2b2c6ebf12" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Palmaris longus muscle. Image source: Wikimedia commons<p> We don't have much need these days, at least most of us, to navigate from tree branch to tree branch. Still, about 86 percent of us still have the wrist muscle that used to help us do it. To see if you have it, place the back of you hand on a flat surface and touch your thumb to your pinkie. If you have a muscle that becomes visible in your wrist, that's the palmaris longus. If you don't, consider yourself more evolved (just joking).</p>
Darwin's tubercle<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NjgxMi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0ODUyNjA1MX0.8RuU-OSRf92wQpaPPJtvFreOVvicEwn39_jnbegiUOk/img.jpg?width=980" id="687a0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b38a957408940673ccc744f0f6828d18" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Darwin's tubercle. Image source: Wikimedia commons<p> Yes, maybe the shell of you ear does feel like a dried apricot. Maybe not. But there's a ridge in that swirly structure that's a muscle which allowed us, at one point, to move our ears in the direction of interesting sounds. These days, we just turn our heads, but there it is.</p>
Goosebumps<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NzMxNC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNzEyNTc2Nn0.aVMa5fsKgiabW5vkr7BOvm2pmNKbLJF_50bwvd4aRo4/img.jpg?width=980" id="d8420" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f735418322b34382dcd882299c9ccc48" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Goosebumps. Photo credit: Tyler Olson via Shutterstock<p>It's not entirely clear what purpose made goosebumps worth retaining evolutionarily, but there are two circumstances in which they appear: fear and cold. For fear, they may have been a way of making body hair stand up so we'd appear larger to predators, much the way a cat's tail puffs up — numerous creatures exaggerate their size when threatened. In the cold, they may have trapped additional heat for warmth.</p>
Tailbone<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NzMxNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMDMzMDc3N30.p9BEtkf3-PV3EtDSQMUGUeopsimiCHUagx97P4f8IBw/img.jpg?width=980" id="e8ab8" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0063ce99bdd22fbebe1279244b87935c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Coccyx. Image source: decade3d-anatomy online via Shutterstock<p>Way back, we had tails that probably helped us balance upright, and was useful moving through trees. We still have the stump of one when we're embryos, from 4–6 weeks, and then the body mostly dissolves it during Weeks 6–8. What's left is the coccyx.</p>
The palmar grasp reflex<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NzMyMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjY0MDY5NX0.OSwReKLmNZkbAS12-AvRaxgCM7zyukjQUaG4vmhxTtM/img.jpg?width=980" id="8804c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="45469ca5ee5f43433a782f7d4ac0a440" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Palmar reflex activated! Photo credit: Raul Luna on Flickr<p> You've probably seen how non-human primate babies grab onto their parents' hands to be carried around. We used to do this, too. So still, if you touch your finger to a baby's palm, or if you touch the sole of their foot, the palmar grasp reflex will cause the hand or foot to try and close around your finger.</p>
Other people's suggestions<p>Amir's followers dove right in, offering both cool and questionable additions to her list. </p>
Fangs?<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Lower mouth plate behind your teeth. Some have protruding bone under the skin which is a throw back to large fangs. Almost like an upsidedown Sabre Tooth.</p>— neil crud (@neilcrud66) <a href="https://twitter.com/neilcrud66/status/1085606005000601600?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Hiccups<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Sure: <a href="https://t.co/DjMZB1XidG">https://t.co/DjMZB1XidG</a></p>— Stephen Roughley (@SteBobRoughley) <a href="https://twitter.com/SteBobRoughley/status/1085529239556968448?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Hypnic jerk as you fall asleep<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">What about when you “jump” just as you’re drifting off to sleep, I heard that was a reflex to prevent falling from heights.</p>— Bann face (@thebanns) <a href="https://twitter.com/thebanns/status/1085554171879788545?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> <p> This thing, often called the "alpha jerk" as you drop into alpha sleep, is properly called the hypnic jerk,. It may actually be a carryover from our arboreal days. The <a href="https://www.livescience.com/39225-why-people-twitch-falling-asleep.html" target="_blank" data-vivaldi-spatnav-clickable="1">hypothesis</a> is that you suddenly jerk awake to avoid falling out of your tree.</p>
Nails screeching on a blackboard response?<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Everyone hate the sound of fingernails on a blackboard. It's _speculated_ that this is a vestigial wiring in our head, because the sound is similar to the shrill warning call of a chimp. <a href="https://t.co/ReyZBy6XNN">https://t.co/ReyZBy6XNN</a></p>— Pet Rock (@eclogiter) <a href="https://twitter.com/eclogiter/status/1085587006258888706?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Ear hair<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Ok what is Hair in the ears for? I think cuz as we get older it filters out the BS.</p>— Sarah21 (@mimix3) <a href="https://twitter.com/mimix3/status/1085684393593561088?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Nervous laughter<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">You may be onto something. Tooth-bearing with the jaw clenched is generally recognized as a signal of submission or non-threatening in primates. Involuntary smiling or laughing in tense situations might have signaled that you weren’t a threat.</p>— Jager Tusk (@JagerTusk) <a href="https://twitter.com/JagerTusk/status/1085316201104912384?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 15, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Um, yipes.<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Sometimes it feels like my big toe should be on the side of my foot, was that ever a thing?</p>— B033? K@($ (@whimbrel17) <a href="https://twitter.com/whimbrel17/status/1085559016011563009?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Are there innate differences between female and male brains?
People have searched for sex differences in human brains since at least the 19th century, when scientist Samuel George Morton poured seeds and lead shot into human skulls to measure their volumes.
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