Sunday, 14 January 2018

UK County Nicknames

After last time looking at the nicknames of the US states, as promised I redress the balance by looking at some of the welcome signs of the counties on the other side of the Atlantic. In alphabetical order and not a complete list starting with England.

Cheshire is Home of England's Finest Gardens


Durham is Land of the Prince Bishops.


Herefordshire, where apparently you can.


Kent is the Garden of England.


Lancashire is a place where everyone matters.


Leicestershire is the Heart of Rural England.


Northamptonshire where you can apparently let yourself grow.


Northumberland is England's Border Country


Nottinghamshire is Robin Hood County.


Stafforshire is the Creative County.


Warwickshire is Shakespeare's County.


And in Scotland

Aberdeenshire is, apparently, from mountain to sea the very best of Scotland.


Clackmannshire is more than you imagine, or say it seems.

Kinrossshire was Scotland's first fairtrade county.

Moray is malt whisky country.

And in Wales

Denbighshire makes one wonder whether if it is rife with disease as it proclaims "you'll never leave".


And in Northern Ireland

Antrim is proud to be Northern Ireland's first fairtrade borough.

Fermanagh welcomes you naturally.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

USA - State Nicknames

Recently heard of how each and every state of the USA is known by its own nickname. In truth there are a number known by more than one. Hence the following list will, where possible, have the official name explained and, when there are more than one, the example I found the most interesting.

Alabama is the Yellowhammer State, so called because of the nickname applied to Confederate soldiers from this state in the US Civil War who wore brilliant yellow cloth trimming the sleeves, collars and coattails.


Alaska is known as the Last Frontier State, and rightly so as it is (quite literally) the most recent wilderness for the US to contend with.

Arizona is the Grand Canyon State and in comes as no surprise to find this tourist magnet is found here.

Arkansas is the Natural State because of its natural scenic beauty.

California is the Golden State because of the Gold Rush of the middle of the 19th century.

Colorado is the Centennial State because it was 100 years since the founding of the Union when it joined.


Connecticut is the Constitution State as it was here at Hartford in 1639 that the first formal constitution was written on American soil.

Delaware is the First State as it was the first to be admitted to the Union, doing so in 1787.

Florida is the Sunshine State because its southern location means it has many hours of sunshine.

Georgia is the Peach State, it having been the official fruit since 1995.

Hawaii is the Aloha State, a Polynesian greeting.

Idaho is the Gem State, often said to be from the Native American reference to the name of Idaho meaning 'the gem of the mountains'. However sources also show how the name came mean 'territory of the fish-eaters' and thus the name refers to the precious metals found here.


Illinois is the Prairie State owing to its location on the prairie lands of North America.

Indiana has no official nickname but is usually known as the Hospitality State, for obvious reasons.

Iowa is the Hawkeye State, nobody really knows for certain why but most often explained by the character in James Fennimore Cooper's book The Last of the Mohicans.

Kansas is the Sunflower State as it is also the state flower.

Kentucky is the Bluegrass State as blue graas grows here. Correctly the grass is, of course, green but appears blue when the flower buds appear in the spring.


Louisiana is the Pelican State as this is the official state bird.

Maine is the Pine Tree State as it has a pine tree on its seal and there are indeed a lot of pine trees here.

Maryland is the Old Line State, from the old Colonial army and the Maryland Line.

Massachusetts is the Bay State as it is, unsurprisingly, where Massachusetts Bay can be found.

Michigan is the Great Lakes State as it borders Lake Michigan.


Minnesota is the North Star State, this appearing on the state seal in French.

Missouri is the Show Me State, reputedly taken from a speech by Missouri congressman William Vandiver.

Montana is the Treasure State because of its gold and silver deposits.

Nebraska is the Cornhusker State, taken from the nickname of the University of Nebraska's sporting teams.

Nevada is the Silver State as it has a wealth of silver.


New Hampshire is the Granite State as the rock was once quarried here in vast quantities.

New Jersey is the Garden State, albeit not officially. This was coined by Abraham Browning in a speech in 1876 at the Centennial Exhibition.

New Mexico is the Land of Enchantment, one of many such enthusiastic names applied to a state

New York is the Empire State as George Washington referred to it as 'the seat of the empire' in 1784.

North Carolina is the Tar Heel State, for the locals were known as 'tarboilers' and later 'tar heels'. While nobody really knows why, one suggestion tells of how a brigade failed to hold their position during a battle in 1869 and the Mississippians blamed this on them failing to tar their heels that morning. Indeed.


North Dakota is the Peace Garden State as the International Peace Gardens are to be found in the north.

Ohio is the Buckeye State, a variety of horse chestnut which is the state tree.

Oklahoma is the Sooner State as many white settlers made claims on land here even before the border restrictions were lifted.

Oregon is the Beaver State as the state animal is the beaver.

Pennsylvania is the Keystone State as it was toasted as 'the keystone to the union' in 1802.


Rhode Island is the Ocean State, abeit not officially, and for obvious reasons.

South Carolina is the Palmetto State after the palmetto palm.

South Dakota is thwe Mount Rushmore State as Mount Rushmore, with its presidential faces, is found here.

Tennessee is the Volunteer State and with several explanations, including the volunteer soldiers at the Battle of New Orleans in 1812 or 1847 and the Mexican War.

Texas is the Lone Star State as this is the symbol found on the flag of Texas.


Utah is the Beehive State, for the Mormon settlers were said to have brought with them swarms of bees.

Vermont is the Green Mountain State, itself from Green Mountain Boy and a reference to any inhabitant since 1772 and named from the militia.

Virgina is the Old Dominion, and earlier Ancient Dominion, as it was the site of the first colonies.

Washington is the Evergreen State because of its vast areas of conifer forest.

West Virginia is the Mountain State for the same reason as some sources give this as the Switzerland of America.

Wisconsin is the Badger State, nothing to do with the animal but to early lead miners who worked underground, just like badgers.


Wyoming is the Equality State as it was here, in 1869, when women's suffrage was granted.

With apologies to our American friends who undoubtedly know most if not all of these, I will redress the balance by giving the origins of the names of counties on this side of the Atlantic next time.

Yet I must end with some of the odder, alternative references used by states for more than two centuries. These include Seward's Ice Box, Cottondom, Baby State, Toothpick State, Mile-High State, the Cracker State, Spud State, Hoosier State, the Cyclone State, Hemp State, Old Dirigo State, Oyster State, Codfish State, Water Wonderland, Cream Pitcher of the Nation, Mudcat State, Stub-Toe State, Divorce State, Clam State, Knickerbocker State, Flickertail State, Boomer's Paradise, Iodine State, Artesian State, Hog and Hominy State, Cheese State, Uncle Sam's Pocket Handkerchief, Land of Steady Habits and, most unusual of all, the Land of Wooden Nutmegs.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Happy New Year?

At the time of writing the year of 2017 has but a few hours left to go. As with 2016 the news has been pretty dire, social media is positively overflowing with doom and gloom, and yet I remain the eternal optimist. Always cheerful I always manage to find the happier side of life.

But at this time of year we have had a real change in the media, be it national or social. Everyone has been happy, wearing jumpers, drinking, eating and singing songs. Christmas specials of all our (supposedly) favourite programmes, and the obligatory gush of puerile festive cinema, including the dreaded Disney.

Hence if the world can be miserable all year round whilst I couldn't give a rodent's posterior, as humanity grins inanely at itself I'll drop into full Victor Meldrew Mode and offer this news item from my home town of Tamworth from 153 years ago today.

It is December 1864 and a normal working day for the coal miners of Tamworth. At the Glascote Colliery a former police officer had been working hard when a piece of coal fell 450 feet and landed on top of him. He died later that day from the resulting injuries.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Raising a Glass

At this time of the year many will enjoy a drink. Even I have been known to take the top off a bottle around this time. Some will enjoy a glass of wine, others their spirit of choice but, should I be tempted, will open a bottle of real ale.

Quite mind-boggling just how many different brews are available these days. Many having the most extraordinary names. Indeed, this intrigued me so much that this year saw me offering talks (with thanks to the many brewers who contributed) on this very subject, a taster of which follows.

But first an introduction to the basic terminology and the etymology. The question came from thinking about ale, so let's begin with that.

Ale - has hardly changed since Proto-Indo-European alu-t and seen in Proto-Germanic aluth and Old English eali. All these early forms mean 'ale' and thus the brew and the word have equally great longevity - indeed there is one school of thought which theorises how it was the brewing of beer which initially made mankind pause as hunter-gatherers and may well have been the initial stage of permanent settlements. This is the beer before bread theory.

Beer - a Germanic word, it is derived from the same root as Latin bibere 'to drink' and in turn from Proto-Indo-European poi 'to drink'.


Mild - not heard too often these days, the term once referred to the less sharp brew when compared to bitter (hence the name). The word comes from Proto-Indo-European meldh 'soft'.

Bitter - shares an origin with 'bite' - we still describe a flavour or taste as having 'bite' - and began as Proto-Indo-European bheid 'to split'.

Lager - began as the German Lagerbier meaning 'beer brewed for keeping' and with the first element of Lager referring to the 'storehouse' and coming from the Proto-Indo-European legh 'to lie down'.


Pilsner - instantly we think 'German' but we would only be half right. The original term was Pilsner Urquell where the second word means 'primary source' and that would have been the town known as Pilsen in Germany but as Plzen in Czech, where the Old Czech plz gave the place its name meaning 'damp, moist'.


Barrel - came to English from Old French baril 'barrel, cask, vat' and can also be seen in Italian barile and Spanish barril but the trail ends there and the origins unknown.

Tap - originally referred to the spigot or plug which would have been the simplest tap, the term is Germanic and has changed little in thousands of years.

Bottle - originally made of leather sealed with tar, it is derived from the Latin buttis meaning 'a cask' and is undoubtedly borrowed from the Greek.

Glass - even as far back as Proto-Germanic this was found as glass, the word comes from Proto-Indo-European ghel 'to shine'.

Wine - no surprise to find it comes from Latin vinum, in turn from Proto-Indo-European woin-o, both with the same meaning.


Spirit - not used to mean strong alcoholic drink until 1670, the word is derived from Proto-Indo-European speis 'to blow'.

Brandy - came to English from the Middle Dutch brandewijn 'burnt wine'.

Whisky - began as 'whiskey' and from Old Irish uisce 'water' and Proto-Indo-European ud-skio from the root wed 'wet'.

Rum - of uncertain origins but certainly known as rumbullion in 1651 and rombostion in 1652 - this may be from the adjective rum from the Romany rom 'male'.


Vodka - is the Russian for 'little water' and from Proto-Indo-European woda and the same root as 'whisky' of wed 'wet'.

Gin - a shortened form of Old French geneva itself referring to the juniper plant, which is the basis for the drink. The origin of 'juniper' is unknown, almost certainly a non-Indo-European language.

But we began with the subject of ales and some of the unusual names, so here are a few examples courtesy of the breweries themselves.
BR> Bowland Breweries: Buster IPA – named after the owner’s dog


Coniston Brewery: Asrai – is a mythical fairy that lives in the copper mines above Coniston. She is so beautiful that as soon as anyone sees her they want to capture her but as soon as she is touched she disappears and turns into a pool of water.


St Austell Brewery: Tribute – the flagship ale also has an interesting story. When head brewer Roger Ryman joined from MacLays in Scotland in 1998, he had an idea for a beer that he swore he would never brew until he was a head brewer – they were lucky enough to benefit from his decision. In 1999, Roger used the idea to create a special brew to celebrate the total solar eclipse that took place that August of 1999. He named the drink Daylight Robbery to mark the event. So popular was this brew that he rebrewed it the following year as a summer special. The, in 2001, to mark St Austell’s 150th anniversary he relaunched the beer to pay tribute to all those people who had contributed across the years to make the company so successful. He named it Tribute and the rest, is history.


Chiltern Brewery: Bodgers Barley Wine – celebrates the ancient trade based locally in High Wycombe for making wooden chair legs.


Two Fingers Brewing: The name of the brewery is an oath, one making great beer for a great cause as all profits go to Prostate Cancer UK. The name is also a good old British two-fingered salute to prostate cancer, and also a nod to the cancer exam which (thankfully) is performed with just one finger, not two.


Allendale Brewery: Tar Barl – based on the New Year celebrations in the village.


Bowman Ales: At the brewery they thought it would be nice to follow a bowman and/or archery theme and thought about using ‘Swift One’ not only an archery thing but also popping down to the local for a swift one. The brewery is in the Meon Valley and this is named after the River Meon, a British river name meaning ‘swift one’ – if only they’d known!


Marstons: Hobgoblin – originally brewed as a one-off for local’s wedding. Two firkins were brewed but only one drunk so they gifted the other to a student bar in Oxford. When he collected the empty someone had drawn a picture on the side and, when it was later put into full-time production, was named Hobgoblin from the chalk figure someone had drawn on the side.


Brixton Brewery: Windrush Stout – after MV Empire Windrush, the ship that brought the first wave of West Indian immigrants to this area of South London in 1948.


Ascot Ales: Posh Pooch – named after a local woman walking a dog, the creature seen wearing a diamond-studded collar.


Ringwood: Boondoggle – is a local term meaning ‘to go on a jolly’.


Jennings: Snecklifter – to lift the latch, and sneak out of the pub.

Theakstons: Old Peculier – named after the Ecclesiastical status of Masham, a distinction granted in medieval times.


Lizard Ales: An Gof – the Cornish expression for a smith and named after a blacksmith from St Keverne who led the Cornish revolt and march to London in 1647 and came to an unpleasant end.


And if you've not had enough, you can always have a look back at at earlier post and an A to Z of drinking terminologies.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Odd Parental Concern

February 1864. Man walks into Stafford police station, his attire showing him to work in engineering. Most worried as he found a letter with a summons addressed to his son. He simply did not understand what was being demanded. The clerk found it highly amusing as it read “Orders the person to appear on the 14th to answer the charge of stealing the heart of Amelia Smart. It was addressed to one J. Lovewell, who was to appear at the Court of Hymen, of which the father had never heard. “Of course not!” replied the clerk, “It’s a valentine!”.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

The A to Z of Sex (again)

A few years ago I looked at slang for sex and thought it was about time we delved again in the seedier side of the English language and look at some of the other terms coined thoughout history to describe the sexual act and things related to same. Enjoy! (And when I say "enjoy" I mean this and not that, if you see what I mean.)

A is for ALMANACH, a late 19th and early 20th century term for what the dictionary refers to as 'the female pudend' (and for balance).....

B is for BALD-HEADED HERMIT, the male member.

C is for CHAFER, the act of copulation.


D is for DEMIREP, a woman whose chastity is called into question, and a term first seen in print in Fielding's Tom Jones published in 1749.

E is for EARLY DOORS which, while soccer pundits might use it to mean 'early on', originated as rhyming slang for 'whores'. Hence we'll all titter when hearing Joe Manager speaking of how "The lads did good early doors".

F is for FIRE-PLUG, a young man with veneral disease.

G is for GETTER, a male with great capacity for fertilization.

H is for HANDFUL OF SPRATS, best way to describe this is 'groping'.


I is for IMPALE used to mean to possess (as in being with) a woman.

J is for JIGGLE, the sexual act.

K is for KEEPING-CULLY, a man who thinks he is keeping a mistress in a home for his own personal use, when in fact he's keeping her for anyone she chooses to be with.

L is for LAP-CLAP, conception.

M is for MEDICINE, the sex act (as in take one's medicine).


N is for NUTMEGS, testicles.


O is for OLD ADAM or the male member.

P is for PARSLEY-BED, again the dictionary refers to this as 'the female pudend'.

Q is for QUEER ROOST, maybe 'living over the brush', 'living in sin', co-habiting?

R is for RAMBLER, a woman of ill repute.

S is for SEALS, testicles again.


T is for THRUM, the sexual act.

U is for UPPER WORKS, the female breast.

V is for VIRGINS BUS, the last bus from Piccadilly Corner which, contrary to the name, was largely populated by prostitutes.


W is for WAP, the sexual act.

X, Y and Z had me beaten once again!