Sarah Lyall has got to be enjoying her job these days. Hot off the heels of reporting on the E.U. art hoax—easily one of the most delightfully entertaining news stories of early 2009—the Times’s London correspondent strikes again, this time with hilarity of a slightly less mature variety. In a story datelined “CRAPSTONE, England,” Lyall sings of the sad plight of citizens living in U.K. towns with off-color/innuendo-filled/inadvertently-hilarious names and places. Like, yes, Crapstone.
On the scale of embarrassing place names, Crapstone ranks pretty high. But Britain is full of them. Some are mostly amusing, like Ugley, Essex; East Breast, in western 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, Oxford; Titty Ho, Northamptonshire; Wetwang, East Yorkshire; Slutshole Lane, Norfolk; and Thong, Kent. And, in a country that delights in lavatory humor, 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, said over the telephone, 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.”
In other words: Teehee!
But before you giggle too much…there’s a deeply felt Human Interest story playing out in Wetwang. (Because it’s not easy to call a place like Crotch Crescent home.) Lyall cites Rob Bailey, “who grew up on Tumbledown Dick Road in Oxfordshire,” and Ed Hurst—co-authors of two books, Rude Britain and Rude U.K., exploring the country’s unfortunate place names—who “got the idea for the 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 water. But 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,” Mr. 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.
Sad news for the couple, but good news for the Times: Lyall’s story, unsurprisingly, is currently at the top of the paper’s Most E-mailed list.Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.