Friday, September 25, 2009

Of Cockfosters, Paddington, Piccadilly Circus, Elephant & Castle, et al

Tourist buffoonery aside, London is also a repository for some of the most amazing place names to be found anywhere. I've been been compiling a list of place names that are either amusing or simply fun to say. The longstanding leader on this list was Naka Okachimachi, a subway station in Tokyo, coming up just ahead of Naka Meguno. Seoul's not bad, with Myeongdong, Dongdaemun (DOAng-day-moon), and Byeongjeom. There's a city in Korea called Gangneung, and the Han River in Korean is called the Han Gang, which sounds like a pack of roving Chinese coming at you with disposable splintered chopsticks.

On the amusing side of things, we have Pudong in Shanghai, which refers to the east (dong) side of the Huangpu river. This area is the future of China, with buildings over 400 metres and countless companies located there. This is possibly the richest area of the entire country, and the name is not one but two bad words in English.

Istanbul's Bosphorus, the narrow waterway between Europe and Asia, sounds like something out of the periodic table. Munich's Hauptbahnhof isn't bad, and it's impossible to leave out einfahrt, which refers not to a single instance of flatulation, but an entrance. Vienna has the Schatzkammer, another Hauptbahnhof (main train station), and a Kunsthistoriches. Paris gave me Marcadet-Poissoiniers, patisserie, alimentation generale (convenience store), abattoir and emportation (imported dishes made to go).

London, however, is a goldmine. Announcements on the subway declare, without a giggle, that "this is a Piccadilly line service for Cockfosters" or that "this is a Bakerloo line train for Elephant & Castle". Oxford Circus, meaning the roundabout on Oxford Street, evokes a large bright-coloured tent on the campus of the world's most prestigious university. There's also Barking and Dagenham, Tottenham, Hammersmith, and the train station St. Pancras, which I've called St. Pancreas one times too many.

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