Coinages, vernaculars, and idiomatic misconceptions. Illustrations by Jan Buchczik
‘AITA HASBAWIYA The voice of the ‘Abda countryside, in the Moroccan Atlantic Plains, is said to be embodied by the women who perform this style of sung poetry, whose characteristic rough timbre varies from region to region.
ARANBA ENA WOBO In Amharic, to go from the tiny, remote town of Aranba to the similarly remote Wobo, is to travel between the farthest ends of Ethiopia, across wide and inaccessible distance—or, in conversation, to jump from one topic to another, completely unrelated one.
BAYOU COUNTRY From the choctaw bayuk and the Louisiana French bayou, for swampy lowland, the name of this region of the Southeastern United States evokes Creole and Cajun cultures, and the journey of their displaced Acadian, Native American, and African American ancestors.
BLED A small village, uninteresting and out-of-the-way, used in France by Maghrebi migrants to evoke both the land they left behind and the tense colonial relationships that underlie their displacement. Somewhere your uncle might live, according to hip-hop group 113’s 1999 hit song “Tonton du Bled.”
BOONDOCKS In Tagalog, bundok means “mountain.” The word was introduced into American slang at the beginning of the twentieth century by US soldiers fighting in the Philippine-American War, for whom bundok connoted an unknowable, often hostile wilderness. As it passed into popular use, its colonial origins became obscured: it now simply refers to any remote rural area or a provincial backwater.
THE BUSH In the Anglo-Caribbean and other former British colonies, the bush is where settled land and the wilderness meet. From Derek Walcott’s epic poem Omeros: “I saw the coastal villages receding as / the highway’s tongue translated bush into forest / the wild savannah into moderate pastures / that other life going in its ‘change for the best’ / its peace paralyzed in a postcard.”
CAMBROUSSE This Belgian colloquial expression for a rural area inspired the fictional village of Champignac-en-Cambrousse, the bucolic setting for many adventures in the long-running comic book series Spirou et Fantasio. See also OUTBACK.
CHACRA Used in many countries in Latin America to refer to a farm. In Chile the expression venir de la chacra (to be from the chacra) describes someone who is credulous and naive.
CHIHŌ (地方) Literally, “toward the land.” A word used to describe parts of Japan outside of the three major metropolitan areas of Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya. Neutral in connotation, the word nevertheless implies a directionality that radiates outward from the metropolis at the centre.
COUNTRYSIDE In eighteenth century England, a landscape of staged leisure and pastoralism, ideally suited for the emergence of bourgeois life outside city centres.
DALOM Somewhere in the middle of Norway, toward the west. In Norwegian, the word literally means “far up in the valleys,” but is used most often as a derogatory term, describing someone uneducated and brute. If the term once brought to mind pastoral paintings of farmers who have sheep and tend the hillsides , today it invokes moonshine, barn parties, and traditional fiddle music.
DESAKOTA Coined by urban geographer Terry McGee, the word combines the Indonesian words desa (village) and kota (city) to describe areas outside of large cities—especially in East and Southeast Asia—where agricultural and urban forms of land use coexist and commingle. The neologism has recently found currency in urban-studies contexts for the opportunity it provides to linguistically override the dichotomy of “urban” and “rural.”
EL INTERIOR Used in most South American countries to refer to the non-metropolitan regions that comprise each country’s productive land. The idea of the interior refers to the colonial land occupation by the European monarchies, whose settlers first established port cities on the coasts of the continent. Today, these now global cities continue to be the main connection with “the outside” while the rest of each country remains “the inside,” or the interior.
EL JABAL (الجبل) Literally, “the mountains,” the term refers to a more sparsely-populated region in Lebanon distinct from the cities, which are clustered along the Mediterranean coast.
EL PUEBLO Both the idea of “the people” and the material reality of “the town.” Mexican usage can be derogatory (ese cabrón es bien de pueblo) or emancipatory, as in the Concejo de Gobierno Indígena, which calls itself an assembly of pueblos.
FLYOVER COUNTRY The term refers to the interior regions of the United States that are “flown over” by travelers transiting between the metropolitan centres of the East and West Coasts. Ironically, the expression was itself popularized in the 1980s by Thomas McGuane, a writer living in Montana who described a person speaking while looking up, watching the planes fly by.
FURUSATO (故郷) Roughly means “hometown” in Japanese, although the term expresses a certain nostalgia for a sense of social and spatial rootedness—the rural sort—that the speaker has lost. The idea is epitomized by the verses of “Furusato” (here translated as “country home”), a popular children’s song taught in public schools across Japan: “When I have done what I set out to do / I’ll return home someday / Where the mountains are green, my old country home / Where the waters are clear, my old country home.”
GITA FUORI PORTA Even in places where medieval gates no longer exist, certain Italians still invoke the phrase when escaping the city for the countryside for a day or two.
HINTERTUPFINGEN In Germany there exists shadow geography of imaginary towns, the names of which are invoked as generic stand-ins for small, remote villages. As in, “Nowadays you’ll even find sushi restaurants in Hintertupfingen.” Hintertupfingen is the South German variant. See also KLEINKLECKERSDORF (Northeast Germany) and PUSEMUCKEL (Northwest Germany), among others.
HOLLER Variant of “hollow.” Small valley or foothill between the Appalachian Mountains, known for strong local identities, bluegrass musical culture, and a long history of being represented, through the photographic lens, as an archetype of American economic hardship and close kinship.
KRÄHWINKEL Literally, “crow’s corner.” In Germany, a pejorative name for a small town in the country, with an emphasis on the provincial, conservative mindset that one allegedly finds there. Writing to a friend back home in Germany in 1933, Albert Einstein described Princeton, New Jersey, as “a wonderful corner of the world, and yet at the same time an absolutely bizarre, ceremonious Krähwinkel full of tiny, stiff-legged demigods.”
MOFOSSHOL (মফস্বল) In Bengali, a word for rural districts outside the city center. Also used to describe a person or thing as “small-town,” or unsophisticated.
MOOHOSRANSK (мухосранск) Combining the words for “fly” and “to take a shit,” this Russian term refers to an out-of-the way settlement. Inscribed in its scatological reference is the persistent (urban) association of the rural with filth, vulgarity, and the unavoidable bodily functions that “sophisticated” urbanites would rather repress.
MYEDVYEZHIY OOGOL (медвежий угол) Literally, “bears’ corner.” In Russia, an expression used to refer to a remote and undesirable place. The phrase can be traced back to the origin story of the city of Yaroslavl, which stands on a site formerly occupied by an ancient settlement called Bears’ Corner—a forbidding place, apparently, populated by fierce pagans worshipping a bear deity.
OUTBACK From “out in the back settlements,” referring to the vast, largely inhospitable interior of the Australian continent, the word implies an orientation toward the trading centres and cities on the coast. See also EL INTERIOR.
PAGOS Used in Argentina to refer to a small town or rural area. Me voy a mis pagos is a common expression used by a person who leaves the big city to return to their rural hometown, even if for the weekend. See FURUSATO.
PAMPA Constituting the main productive agricultural regions of Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, this fertile South American flat land is invoked in Germany to describe the middle of nowhere. As in, “Our car broke down in the Pampa.”
PAYS D’EN HAUT Imagined landscape of the fur trade in francophone North America, and of the Terroir-era colonial migrations in Quebec, located upstream from urban areas on the Saint Lawrence, Mississippi, and Ottawa rivers. Backdrop to Claude-Henri Grignon’s 1933 novel, Un homme et son péché, later serialized for radio and television. See also UPSTATE.
PENNSYLTUCKY Originating in the 1972 song “A Farm in Pennsyltucky,” by country music star Jeannie Seely, the word is used to talk about the rural areas of Pennsylvania between the larger metropolitan areas of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
PROVINCES Heinrich Heine, 1833: “By France I mean Paris, and not the provinces; for what the provinces think is of as little consequence as what one’s legs think. It is the head that is the seat of our thoughts. […] The men of the provinces with whom I have conversed have impressed me like milestones bearing inscribed on their foreheads the distance, more or less great, from the capital.”
ROÇA In Brazilian Portuguese, “field,” defined in contradistinction to rua, “street,” connoting a cultivated but non-urban space. Both roça and rua are in contrast to mata, “forest” or “brush,” which is uncultivated land.
THE STICKS In the Simpsons episode “When You Dish Upon a Star,” a hang-gliding accident leaves the family stranded near the secluded hide-away of film stars Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin. “Way out in the sticks like this? It could only be hillbillies,” says Homer. “So I suppose that’s a hillbilly jacuzzi?” says Bart.
T’MOOTARAKAN’ (тьмутаракань) The name of a Kievan Rus’ principality and trading town that controlled the Cimmerian Bosporus, the passage from the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov, in present-day Krasnodar Krai (a remote place by medieval standards). The word invokes “cockroach” (tarakan / таракан) and “darkness” (t’ma / тьма).
UPSTATE The part of New York State above, or north of, New York City, though no one’s exactly sure where it begins. See PAYS D’EN-HAUT.
WO SICH FUCHS UND HASE GUTE NACHT SAGEN In German, literally, “Where the fox and the hare say good night to each other.” The idiom refers to a place so remote, so far from humans, that the fox and the hare—notoriously shy animals—will venture out to greet one another.
We crowdsourced this glossary with the help of Corinna Anderson, Lev Bratishenko, Alessandra Ciucci, Francesca Romana Dell’Aglio, Helina Gebremedhen, Kristin Hickman, Gregory Duff Morton, Federico Ortiz, Jess Robinson, Yuma Shinohara, and Espen Vatn. Jan Buchczik holds the copyright to these illustrations.