June 14, 2007

Montana's mountains and creeks in the news

The Language Log Rocky Mountain reporter's office is located in an elegant cubicle right next to Eric Bakovic's desk under the stairwell at Language Log Plaza. He thinks he was stuck there because he represents callow youth (aka Youth and Popular Culture). I suppose the staff in the penthouse offices think that nothing about language is worth reporting from my isolated base out here in Montana. [Sidenote: It's curious though that the management put the youngest logger down here in the basement right next to the oldest one -- just the stuff needed for an age discrimination suit. Hmm.]

One day at the Plaza water cooler, Geoff Pullum commented that nothing interesting ever happens out here in Montana. Well, I'm here to tell him how wrong he is. STUFF happens here -- BIG STUFF. The Missoulian (I'm sure you read this newspaper daily) has reported that one of the state's finest mountain ski resorts is changing its name from Big Mountain Resort to Whitefish Mountain Resort. In the print version the CEO, Fred Jones, said: "Quite honestly, the Big Mountain name has been very confusing outside the region. There's a whole host of big somethings out there." So take that, you effete loggers on our east and west coasts! We know how to rename things here.

But, unfortunately, there are still a lot of places to rename. Big Mountain (it's actually the name of a mountain) isn't the only bland name in Montana. When I retired and relocated to this state, after spending the previous 30 years in Washington, DC, I noticed how very vanilla the place names are out here. For example, I live near a premier trout fishing stream called Rock Creek, not a very exciting name. Montana has 9,442 place names with the word, "creek," attached. Spring Creek is said to be the most common one. Others in the top twenty are Rock Creek, Cottonwood Creek, Ash Creek, Fish Creek, Bear Creek, Deer Creek, Trout Creek, and so on. Generic. Dull, dull, dull. Very seldom do you find more interesting place names, such as Balm of Gilead Creek and Maid of the Mist Creek. But there is a hopeful handfull of mysteriously bold and frightening ones, like Damnation Creek, No Business Creek, Starvation Creek, and Poison Creek. For reasons hard to fathom, we also have Octopus Creek, Alligator Creek, and Sauerkraut Creek. Alas, these place names don't give even a hint of the Native American history of the state, even though there are seven Indian reservations here.

So, renaming Big Mountian Resort to Whitefish Mountain Resort indicates clearly how much Montana is really on the move in the onomastics biz.....And that's the outpost news for today. Maybe it will get me a new desk lamp.

Posted by Roger Shuy at June 14, 2007 05:52 PM