Sunday, January 25, 2009

How the British have learned to stop worrying and love their rude, often lewd place names


How the British have learned to stop worrying and love their rude, often lewd place names

Jan 25, 2009 04:30 AM

SARAH LYALL

NEW YORK TIMES

CRAPSTONE, England – When ordering something by telephone, Stewart Pearce tends to take a pro-active approach when asked the inevitable question: "What is your address?"

He lays it out straight, so there's no room for unpleasant confusion.

"I say: 'It's spelled crap, as in crap,' " explained Pearce, 61, who has lived for decades in Crapstone, a one-shop country village in Devon.

In the scale of embarrassing place names, Crapstone ranks pretty high.

But Britain is full of embarrassing addresses.

Some are mostly amusing, like Ugley in Essex, East Breast in Scotland, North Piddle in Worcestershire and Spanker Lane in Derbyshire.

Others evoke images that may conflict with residents' efforts to appear dignified when, for example, applying for jobs.

These include Crotch Crescent in Oxford, Titty Ho in Northamptonshire, Wetwang in East Yorkshire, Slutshole Lane in Norfolk and Thong in Kent.

In a country that delights in lavatory humour, particularly if the word "bottom" is involved, there is Pratts Bottom in Kent, doubly cursed because "prat" is slang for buffoon.

As for Penistone, a thriving South Yorkshire town, just stop that sophomoric snickering.

"It's pronounced PENNIS-tun," Fiona Moran, manager of the Old Vicarage Hotel in Penistone, intones over the phone rather sharply. When forced to spell her address for outsiders, she uses misdirection, separating the tricky section into two blameless parts: P-e-n – pause – i-s-t-o-n-e.

Several months ago, Lewes District Council in East Sussex tried to address the problem of inadvertent place-name titillation by saying that "street names which could give offence" would no longer be allowed on new roads.

"Avoid aesthetically unsuitable names," like Gaswork Rd., the council decreed.

Also, avoid "names capable of deliberate misinterpretation," like Hoare Road or Typple Avenue.

The council explained that it was only following national guidelines and that it did not intend to change any existing names.

Still, news of the revised policy raised an outcry.

"Sniggering at double entendres is a loved and time-honoured tradition in this country," Carol Midgley wrote in The Times of London.

Ed Hurst, co-author, with Rob Bailey, of Rude Britain and Rude UK, which list arguably offensive place names – some so arguably offensive that, unfortunately, they cannot be printed here – said many of the communities in question were established hundreds of years ago and their names were not rude at the time.

"Place names and street names are full of history and culture, and it's only because language has evolved over the centuries that they've wound up sounding rude," Hurst said in an interview.

Hurst and Bailey (who grew up on Tumbledown Dick Road in Oxfordshire) got the idea for their books when they read about a couple who bought a house on Butt Hole Road in South Yorkshire.

The name most likely has to do with the spot's historic function as a source of water – a water butt being a container for collecting the liquid. But in the centuries that followed, it proved to be prohibitively hilarious.

"If they ordered a pizza, the pizza company wouldn't deliver it, because they thought it was a made-up name," Hurst said.

"People would stand in front of the sign, pull down their trousers and take pictures of each other's naked buttocks."

The couple moved away.

The people in Crapstone have not had similar problems, although their sign is periodically stolen by word-loving merrymakers.

And their village became a stock joke a few years ago, when a television commercial featuring a prone-to-swearing soccer player named Vinnie Jones showed the athlete's automobile breaking down just under the Crapstone sign.

In the commercial, Jones tries to alert the towing company to his location while covering the sign and trying not to say "crap" in front of his young daughter.

The consensus in the village is that there is a perfectly innocent reason for the name "Crapstone," though it is unclear what that meaning is.

Theories put forth by various residents the other day included "place of the rocks," "a kind of twisting of the original word," "something to do with the soil" and "something to do with Sir Francis Drake," who lived nearby.

Jacqui Anderson, a doctor in Crapstone who used to live in a village called Horrabridge, which has its own issues, said she no longer deals with the "crap" in "Crapstone."

Still, when strangers ask where she's from, she admitted, "I just say I live near Plymouth."

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