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Vitamin Q: the book!

~ Friday, April 11, 2003
 
BACK OF BEYOND

Most languages and cultures have sayings for the back of beyond. In Australia, they say someone lives way out Woop Woop, or beyond the black stump (referring to a burnt tree trunk in deepest Queensland once used as a marker by surveyors and mappers); they also refer to beyond the back blocks and beyond the wallaby.

Even the bible indulged in this suspicion of the faraway, with Cain being banished to the scary sounding East of Eden. In Scotland, sometimes Inversneck is used (a nickname for Inverness or any supposedly rural town of the north). Boondocks, used by Americans, was a term US soldiers picked up in the Philippines, from the local word for mountains.

In the fine book Your Mother's Tongue, which is all about swearing and slang in European languages, Stephen Burgen collects some more of these, some of which were new to me: the French say en plein bled (in the open desert), or Tripatouille-les-Oies, a mock town name which means 'the place where they tamper with geese'. Germans say 'where the fox and hare say goodnight to each other' or just 'where the foxes bid one another good night'. The Hispanics tend to be as religious and surreal on this as on everything. In Spain, they talk of 'where Christ dropped his lighter'. In Portugal, it is 'where Judas lost his boots' while in Cuba, curiously, they talk of the back of beyond as 'where God painted St Peter and didn't get round to the bicycle'.

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