First You Head Toward the River River, and Take a Left at Mt. Mountain
September 6, 2021 11:02 PM   Subscribe

Generalist Academy: "There's an old story about an explorer arriving in a new territory. He points to a mountain (or some other geographic feature) and asks a local what it's called. The local gives him a name, say 'X,' and from then on the explorer calls it Mount X. Except the local was just telling him the word 'mountain' in the local language. Translated, the name is now 'Mount Mountain'. This is a polyglot tautology."
posted by MollyRealized (22 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: Poster's Request -- loup

How about "Nueva Cartagena" or "Nueva Qart Hadasht Nova" meaning "New New New City"
posted by haemanu at 11:19 PM on September 6, 2021 [8 favorites]

rather short — would have been cool if they had more examples, or extended it beyond place names (obvious examples of names that aren’t toponyms that everyone knows: chai tea, naan bread, etc.)
posted by LeviQayin at 1:37 AM on September 7, 2021 [5 favorites]

“The forest of Skund was indeed enchanted, which was nothing unusual on the Disc, and was also the only forest in the whole universe to be called -- in the local language -- Your Finger You Fool, which was the literal meaning of the word Skund.

The reason for this is regrettably all too common. When the first explorers from the warm lands around the Circle Sea travelled into the chilly hinterland they filled in the blank spaces on their maps by grabbing the nearest native, pointing at some distant landmark, speaking very clearly in a loud voice, and writing down whatever the bemused man told them. Thus were immortalised in generations of atlases such geographical oddities as Just A Mountain, I Don't Know, What? and, of course, Your Finger You Fool.

Rainclouds clustered around the bald heights of Mt. Oolskunrahod ('Who is this Fool who does Not Know what a Mountain is') and the Luggage settled itself more comfortably under a dripping tree, which tried unsuccessfully to strike up a conversation.”
― Terry Pratchett, The Light Fantastic
posted by Grangousier at 2:57 AM on September 7, 2021 [30 favorites]

The Wikipedia list of tautological place names has a few dozen more, although some are a bit dubious. More examples:
Kodiak Island and the Faroe Islands
The Mississippi, Connecticut, and Ohio Rivers
Lakes Chad, Ontario, Tahoe, and Michigan
Mounts Kilimanjaro and Kenya, plus the Rock of Gibraltar

(I wrote the FPP article; thanks for linking, WCityMike2!)
posted by Paragon at 3:00 AM on September 7, 2021 [19 favorites]

The Birrarung River, which flows through Melbourne, is mistakenly called the Yarra, after the Wurundjeri(?) word for "river".
posted by acb at 4:02 AM on September 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

Is there a similar term for the example of Wendouree (part of Ballarat), which comes from the local word wendaaree, meaning "go away"?
posted by pompomtom at 5:44 AM on September 7, 2021 [4 favorites]

I like the example of the Potomac river, which is not a polyglot tautology but looks like one. The origin is the word Patawomeck. But there is this Greek word potamos meaning river -- whence we get the English words hippopotamus and mesopotamia. Indeed there's even an obscure word potamic meaning "related to rivers"!

We get a (not) polyglot tautology and a false cognate all in one!
posted by look upon my works progress administration at 6:13 AM on September 7, 2021 [10 favorites]

Torpenhow Hill : aw, they debunk this one. It was one of my favourite pieces of trivia to bring up everytime someone went on a rant about PIN numbers or ATM machines.
posted by Mitheral at 6:43 AM on September 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

From baseball, there’s the Los Angeles Angels.
posted by madcaptenor at 7:46 AM on September 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

I wonder how many of the examples are like Dalkey in Ireland. Both Dalkey and the Irish version Deilginis would have originally referred to the island (-ey in Norse, and inis in Irish mean island), but the names got associated with the town that grew up on the mainland. So the island is now referred to as "Dalkey Island". (The meaning of the -ey suffix long since lost.)

I'm always fascinated by place names and their meanings. Things like polyglot tautologies are particularly interesting, because you can sometimes see the imprints left by different languages or peoples, and how important geography was. If something is being called Desert Desert it's probably going to be for a reason...
posted by scorbet at 8:52 AM on September 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

We're the Hekawi.
posted by SPrintF at 9:12 AM on September 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

A distantly related phenomenon that has always tickled me is how spread throughout Europe there are places named Wales/Wallonia/Wallachia, which is an exonym, in this case basically a Germanic word for "some non-Germanic dudes." Here's the wikipedia article, for what it's worth. Looking up some words in the OED I learned that the first element from "walnut" evidently comes from the same exonymic root (cf. "guinea pig," "Indian corn"). The walnut is, in the eloquent words of an early 20c OED editor, "the nut of the Roman lands (Gaul and Italy) as distinguished from the native hazel." The more you know.
posted by sy at 11:57 AM on September 7, 2021 [6 favorites]

I have a Soh Daiko album where they are called Soh Daiko Taiko Drum Ensemble, or "Drum group drum drum group"
posted by Foosnark at 12:16 PM on September 7, 2021 [7 favorites]

Boulder Colrado , table mesa
posted by hortense at 1:03 PM on September 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Breedon on the Hill gets its name talked about in the Hellboy story "The Thrice-Named Hill."
posted by Mister Moofoo at 6:42 PM on September 7, 2021

The walnut is, in the eloquent words of an early 20c OED editor, "the nut of the Roman lands (Gaul and Italy) as distinguished from the native hazel."

And the "walnut" editor's name -- J. R. R. Tolkien. Small world, isn't it?
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 8:46 PM on September 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Great stuff.

I didn't catch Istanbul in TFA or the wiki list, which surprises me. Why'd they change it? We can say. People just kept calling it "the city," basically.

Where I live, we call San Francisco "the city" and the annual Stanford/Cal game "the big game" both of which I've actually seen offend some transplants who didn't know the lingo (to my vast amusement). I love the provinciality of local nicknames; there are objectively bigger cities and games, we are admitting our myopia.

Anyway, both of these make me think the "confused explorer" origin story is off more often than not; it's just convenient to use the names everyone uses. It's not that the Ottomans didn't know it was "really" called Constantinople--they used that in documents--but common usage won out.
posted by mark k at 10:52 PM on September 7, 2021

I didn't catch Istanbul in TFA or the wiki list, which surprises me

It's not tautological though - I presume it would be on the list if the Ottomans started to call it the Turkish equivalent of Istanbul City - making it City City.
posted by scorbet at 3:06 AM on September 8, 2021

I figured there had to be a Metro City somewhere in fictiondom, and among other things, it's Inspector Gadget's hometown.
posted by condour75 at 5:40 AM on September 8, 2021

(although now that i'm thinking about it, it's the polis that means city, so I guess it's not quite a tautology. Even if the common English usage of metro means city-related.)
posted by condour75 at 5:41 AM on September 8, 2021

It's not tautological though

Hmm. I may have misunderstood the assignment.

In my mind naming a city "City" is inherently tautological but, yes, it doesn't rise to the level of all the other examples.
posted by mark k at 1:47 PM on September 8, 2021

There is the Australian city of Townsville.

(It's actually named after some dude called Towns, but the surname does derive from the English word town, so I think we should be allowed to have it).
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:08 AM on September 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

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