August 21, 2019

The OED "word of the day" is "Nowheresville."

I can't link to the OED, so I'll just tell you it's "colloquial and humorous (orig. and chiefly U.S.)" and it's "A largely unknown or uninteresting place, esp. a small, rural town; (also figurative) obscurity, insignificance, limbo." The oldest in-print use was from 1917 T. H. Litster, "Songs your Heart & Mine": "I came from back of Nowheresville, From Concession number three,.. It's the place where I was born, you see."

I like this 1959 use in The Washington Post: "Legally speaking, the Coffee and Confusion Club, the beat generation's contribution to Foggy Bottom, was in Nowheresville yesterday." I couldn't find that text in the WaPo archive (or elsewhere) but I did find this picture:



The etymology of "Nowheresville" is easy: "nowheres" + "-ville."

But is "nowheres" really a word? Well, yeah, "regional and nonstandard." Dickens has a character say it in "Bleak House" (1853): "Don't let me ever see you nowheres within forty mile of London, or you'll repent it." And Mark Twain has somebody say it in "The Adventures Huckleberry Finn" (1884): "I hain't been nowheres."

The "-ville" ending is interesting. What else do you think of besides "nowheresville"? I think of "dullsville." The ending makes a word into "a fictitious place" or "a particular quality suggested by the word to which it is appended." Among the examples in the OED are "Meatville" (from a sign in a butcher shop in an 1843 comic), "Sluggersville" ("a slugger from Sluggersville," 1891), "Winnersville" ("That girl is a winner from Winnersville," 1906), "Boneheadville" ("you're the biggest bonehead from Boneheadville," 1932).

So that's one way to do it: X from Xville (or Xsville). Looks like repeating the root word felt funny in the first half of the 20th century.

Later you get "Squaresville" ("This guy is from Squaresville, fellas, I'm telling you. He wouldn't know a ·45 from a cement mixer" — Ed McBain, "Cop Hater," 1956). Similarly: "Cubesville." And "Hicksville." Also: "Deathville" and "dragsville" — for boring.

Seems like the "-ville" ending took on a negative feeling. And after such a bright beginning with Meatville, Sluggersville, and Winnersville.

65 comments:

Tomcc said...

I seem to recall that coming out of the 60's: "Nowheresville, man"
I also like Coupe d'ville.

rehajm said...

Whoville? Exactly. Whereville? The toilet.

Robt C said...

Isn't Mudville a thing? Isn't that where Mighty Casey struck out?

Tomcc said...

AA: "Seems like the "-ville" ending took on a negative feeling"
Hooverville

Bill Peschel said...

Hitsville was the term used for Motown, so that's positive.

The Clash did their take on it and called it "Hitsville UK," which was just as positive.

Ann Althouse said...

"I seem to recall that coming out of the 60's: "Nowheresville, man""

Maybe you're thinking of "Nowhere Man."

In the 60s, it was beatnik talk. Most notably, "squaresville" as in "He is squaresville" (as if the person were a place).

I don't think hippies said "nowheresville." I think the hippiespeak would just be "nowhere," as in Neil Young's "Everybody knows this is nowhere" (and The Beatles' "Nowhere Man").

tcrosse said...

Splitsville.

Tomcc said...

Robt C- and there's been no joy there since that fateful day.

tcrosse said...

Margaritaville.

Ann Althouse said...

"Isn't Mudville a thing? Isn't that where Mighty Casey struck out?"

Mudville was a fictional place name. Of course, there are many place names that use the "-ville" ending, like Charlottesville. It just means "city" in French.

That's how you get the brand name Coupe de Ville. From Wikipedia: "The term "de ville" is French for "for town"[3] and indicates that the vehicle is for use in town or for short distances. When added to the end of a body style (saloon, coupé, landaulet, etc.), "de Ville" indicated that the top over the driver's compartment could be folded away, retracted, or otherwise removed.[4] As a vehicle for town use, the coupé de ville usually had no facilities for carrying luggage."

tcrosse said...

In a similar vein, one could go to Fist City.

Ann Althouse said...

"Hooverville"

Yeah... we had "Walkerville" during the anti-Walker protests in Wisconsin. It was people living in tents on the Capitol Square.

Tomcc said...

Maybe you're thinking of "Nowhere Man."
Admittedly, it's a vague recollection. I'm a few years behind the hippie culture (10 y.o. in 68). I suspect I heard it from my older siblings who, although not hippies themselves, were certainly in that cohort.

Ralph L said...

I ain't nowhere tarred.

traditionalguy said...
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Ralph L said...

In Connecticut, it's Nowherebury. Here in NC, it's Nowhereboro (originally spelled Nowhereborough), with the accent on the second syllable.

traditionalguy said...

I think that's the same as the Boondocks. Speaking of Nowheresville, the old road to Florida passed many a single store and gas station with no redlight.They were not on the map either. But FDR liked one of them that ran past a Warm Springs health resort. He bought it and spent his last days there. It is still Nowheresville but now it has one redlight and they renamed the road to Atlanta "Roosevelt Highway." They still love FDR around there.

Ralph L said...

It's just west of East Bumfuck.

Roger Sweeny said...

"Last Train to Hicksville" was the title of a 1973 album by Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks. But I grew up next to a real Hicksville, on Long Island, named after the Hicks family. Billy Joel would have graduated from Hicksville High School if he hadn't left early for the music business.

madAsHell said...

I feel certain that etymology overlooks the contribution of Maynard G. Krebs.

MacMacConnell said...

Bonneville, a salt flat and a British motorcycle Bob Dylan once owned.

Phidippus said...

Those 1959 beatniks in the photograph sure look like a bunch of wild and crazy guys. Plenty of angry scowls and bad attitudes there, but no tattoos or nose rings in sight.

Simpler times.

Ann Althouse said...

"I feel certain that etymology overlooks the contribution of Maynard G. Krebs."

Me too. I put some time into looking for Maynard quotes and came up empty.

Fernandistein said...

Mark Twain - nowheres

Someone should've learned Twain how to talk right or killed him.

J2 said...

Squaresville: Sam the Sham & the Pharoas

"Don't want to be L7. Come and learn to dance."

Wooly Bully.

Fernandistein said...

Maynard quotes

Maynard G. Krebs: "Like you're welcome."

Plenty more where that came from.

Fernandistein said...

"Townville" has a nice sound to it, as if friendly people live there, but Villeton has villains who talk funny.

Ralph L said...

but no tattoos or nose rings in sight.

Nipple rings and Prince Alberts were hep because they didn't disturb girls' fathers.

madAsHell said...

I'll bet the etymology for propinquity overlooks Zelda Gilroy as well!!

Fernandistein said...

Squaresville Cubesville

Escape from Rectangular Prismville, man. If you get sent to prism, that is.

PJ said...

29 comments and no Hooterville?

traditionalguy said...

In honor of the feisty Saxons from Denmark I like seeing ham as a suffix instead of ville or boro. For Germanic people it means town , Hamlet , and comes from the same etymology as Home.

The Nowheresvilles in Eastern England were named by Saxons that came in when the Romans pulled ,out. Thus we got place names of BirmingHAM, NottingHAM, CunningHAM,BrougHAM, WindHAM, GotHAM, East Ham, BuckingHAM, HAMton, et al. But the syllable is not pronounced as HAM but as OOOM.

PM said...
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Aussie Pundit said...

It's "nowheres" because combining 'nowhere' and 'ville' sounds weird without the S.

donald said...

The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn is my favorite book, as in I love it. I gave it to a Polish girl in Australia who wrote to me about it for two years (Her whole family had escaped the Iron Curtain and loved them some Americans) and read it again in the last couple of years. It brought me to tears when I was nine and can still do it fifty tears later, cause it did in Joshua Tree. You could not gift anybody a better book about America.

Unknown said...

Coolsville. A wonderful song by Ricki Lee Jones.

Iman said...

Springville, which is southeast of Bonneville, at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains... beautiful small town.

Ralph L said...

The Pontiac Bob Dylan owned in 1965 was a Bonneville.

Iman said...

Clarksville, as in take the last train to...

Phidippus said...

I agree with you, donald.

There is more humanity in Huckleberry Finn than there is in a decade's worth of the Sunday New York Times.

Mark Twain is lucky to be dead. Many are, actually.

Clark said...

Iman has it right. Clarksville is where it's at. No negative connotations with that.

jimbino said...

I know my Brazilian friend laughed when driving in West Texas, I called out, "It looks like we're in the middle of nowhere."

liza moon said...


we live in the "baroda triangle", one of those places that are harder to find the closer you get. cook nuclear's 10 mile early warning sirens are heard here so trust me regarding high tension lines slicing signals like a pie. signals are better in winter after the forest sheds leaves. in this county most roads run with the compass, mine does not. but the numbers run with the compass such that i suggest to those who approach to simply ignore mailbox numbers. about half the time first time visitors see me waving them down right by the manure spreader.

i will attempt to supply a pic of the aged and venerable manure spreader that came with the place.

The Cracker Emcee Refulgent said...

I once tried to make “Drag City” hep talk among my peers. It went nowheresville but I still use it.

Narayanan said...

In fi-sci have : Erewhon

Wince said...

In the spring of 1980 I was at college in Athens, Georgia. My once-good grades had given way to behavior that my parents were starting to get wind of, and they instructed me to come back home to Maryland for the summer. I didn’t want to go. Everything in Athens was so… fresh and exciting. I had just started taking part in the innocent decadence that would sustain the scene for the next several years.

(Don't Go Back To) Rockville

Looking at your watch a third time waiting in the station for a bus,
Going to a place that's far, so far away and if that's not enough,
Going where nobody says hello, they don't talk to anybody they don't know,
You'll wind up in some factory, spend all your time, there's and nowhere left to go,
Walk home to an empty house, sit around all by yourself,
I know it might sound strange, but I believe you'll be coming back here before too long

Don't go back to Rockville (how I wish I could stay),
Don't go back to Rockville (I know it's time to go),
Don't go back to Rockville (how I wish I could stay),
And waste another year

At night I drink myself to sleep and pretend,
It doesn't matter if you're not here with me,
'Cause it's so much easier to handle all my problems when I'm too far gone to see,
But something better happen soon,
Or it's gonna be too late to bring you back

It's not as though I really need you,
If you were here I'd only bleed you,
It's just that everybody in this town only wants to put you down,
And that's not how it ought to be,
I know it might sound strange, but I believe you'll be coming back here before too long

Rockport Conservative said...

Back when I was a kid I remember Timbuktu being used in that way. I doubt we had a clue where it might actually be, but it was a far off nothing place to be.

J. Farmer said...
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J. Farmer said...

I would add Hooterville, Smallville, and (my favorite) Palookaville.

J. Farmer said...

p.s. Damn, I see PJ beat me to the punch on Hooterville.

LTC Ted said...

"Toonerville" Perhaps the suffix *ville has a relative in the construction "Boaty McBoatface."

tim in vermont said...

How can you talk about Nowheresville and not bring up Bugtussle from Green Acres anyways? We always said ‘anyways' and ‘nowheres’ and ’somewheres' where I grew up and thereabouts.

tim in vermont said...

Mark Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn in my hometown, BTW. Maybe we all got it from him.

BAS said...

I read it as Now heres ville. It's in the present.

tim in vermont said...

Hillary says “ain’t noways tarred.” so that’s a thing.

Quaestor said...

The Wildman of Wildsville

DavidD said...

“We’re splitsville.” used to be used to refer to a break-up.

Amadeus 48 said...

I’m from Palookaville. It’s a little just down the road from Podunk.

Amadeus 48 said...

Maynard:
“...work. WORK!!??!!!”

TonyW said...

When I retire I'm moving to Scoville for the warmer weather.

Xmas said...

I like "City' as a modifier. But X City sounds like a business. For example, this: https://youtu.be/2XbCWmY0eqY

Brian McKim and/or Traci Skene said...

"Nowheresville" is in tight rotation in my vocabulary, as is "squaresville."

As for "nowhere" vs. "nowheres," is that like "toward" vs. "towards?" Is "towards" "regional?"

I see that you have declared appending the suffix "-ville" onto a word (along with repeating the appended word in the brief setup) is now no longer funny. It's strictly for the squares from squaresville now.

Well, I'd like to nominate a particular hack (civilian) comedy device for banishment: That of naming people with ridiculous, vaguely Irish-sounding names in order to ridicule them. It is (or was) a disease, a scourge-- and Patient Zero was likely a comic of the mid-90s "alternative" scene. Then its use spread to the amateurs and hobbyists. It reached its peak when an online poll named an autonomous underwater vehicle "Boaty McBoatface." (Sorta like "the bonehead from Boneheadsville," only with irony. Lots of irony.)

Skippy Tisdale said...

"And "Hicksville""

Hicksville is an actual town on Long Island.

https://www.google.com/maps/place/Hicksville,+NY/@40.7654935,-73.5474131,14z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x89c280e21d6f79bb:0xe480b32e3448da94!8m2!3d40.7684331!4d-73.5251253?hl=en

RobinGoodfellow said...


Blogger Ann Althouse said...
"Isn't Mudville a thing? Isn't that where Mighty Casey struck out?"

Mudville was a fictional place name. Of course, there are many place names that use the "-ville" ending, like Charlottesville. It just means "city" in French.

That's how you get the brand name Coupe de Ville. From Wikipedia: "The term "de ville" is French for "for town"[3] and indicates that the vehicle is for use in town or for short distances. When added to the end of a body style (saloon, coupé, landaulet, etc.), "de Ville" indicated that the top over the driver's compartment could be folded away, retracted, or otherwise removed.[4] As a vehicle for town use, the coupé de ville usually had no facilities for carrying luggage."


Please don’t forget C. Everett Koop de Ville, the Cartalk Surgeon General.

JamesB.BKK said...

There was Pottersville - an imaginary corrupt and mean alt-history town shown to a suicidal man - in a famous and strangely loved Christmas movie about suicide and consequential considerations and easy loans. That might have sealed in the negativity. As for nowheresville, that sounds kind of dumb yes? Where I came up somebody coined the term "Bumfuckegypt" to describe such a place but usually in polite company one would use "the sticks" (the styx?), "the country," or "the middle of nowhere."