From Squaw Tit to Whorehouse Meadow From Squaw Tit to Whorehouse Meadow by Mark Monmonier
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Year: 2006
Pages: 230

I stumbled upon this book by chance, and after reading the cover flap, I was reminded of a section in Bill Bryson’s Made in America (funny how everything seems to center around Bill Bryson’s books) in which he talks about some of the dirty place names that were given during the westward expansion of the United States.

The informational length of Squaw Tit is relatively short, but it’s a dense book: it actually reads more like a long paper than a book. Oh, it’s interesting, to be sure, but doesn’t have the easy readability that it might have if a more talented writer were at the helm.

The book deals with two primary points. The first is the obscene naming of local features in the early days of America—including words like ‘nigger,’ ‘squaw’1. Monmonier talks about the forces that brought about such namings as well as the gradual process of changing or purging such epithets from government maps, which is considerably more difficult than it might sound, since a fine line must be walked between local usage (esp. w.r.t. tribal land), states’ rights, and the Fed).

The second part strays into international territory and global conflicts about naming—for instance, whether the Sea of Japan should be labeled as such or as East Sea. Monmonier also covers the use of maps as a way to suppress and persecute (something a bit more common in politically turbulent countries like Russia or Turkey). Again, it’s incredibly interesting, but very dry. Monmonier is a brilliant cartographer and a very smart man, but if it wasn’t for the inherently titillating subject of his book—not to mention the ribald title—this book would never wedge its way onto the “featured” shelf at the library, which is where I found it.

  1. According to some people, the word ‘squaw’ is comparable either to a word like ‘whore,’ which is denigrating to women in general, or a word like ‘cunt,’ an obscene reference to the female genitalia. It’s a matter of some debate, but the argument is convincing enough to inspire many bureaucrats to try to change place names that include ‘squaw’[]
§1593 · December 31, 2006 · Tags: , , , ·

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