(Roughly) Daily

Name that Town!…

One of the most frequently asked questions among new acquaintances (and random encounters) goes to origins: “where are you from?”

Lest one take one’s home for granted, the good folks at Purple Slinky have shared a list of “The Ten Longest Place Names in the World.”

Consider, for example, Number Two:


This place name has 85 letters and is the Maori name of a hill in New Zealand. It translates as: “The place where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, who slid, climbed and swallowed mountains, known as land-eater, played on the flute to his loved one.”

The Longest?  Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit…  Or, as it’s more frequently called thereabouts, Krung Thep…  or in the West, Bangkok.

As we rethink bumper stickers as a marketing tool, we might consider teaching our dogs new tricks, as it was on this date, in 1768, that the first modern circus was staged.  Trick riders, acrobats, clowns, trained animals, and other familiar components of the circus have existed throughout recorded history, but it was not until the late 18th century that the modern spectacle of the circus was born, when Philip Astley, a former British cavalry sergeant major, found that if he galloped in a tight circle, centrifugal force allowed him to perform seemingly impossible feats on a horse’s back. He drew up a,  ring in London and on January 9, 1768, invited the public to see him wave his sword in the air while he rode with one foot on the saddle and one on the horse’s head.

Astley’s trick riding was such a hit that he soon hired other equestrians, a clown, and musicians, and in 1770 built a roof over his ring– calling the structure Astley’s Amphitheatre.  In 1772, Astley went to Versailles to perform his “daring feats of horsemanship” before King Louis XV, and found France ripe for a permanent show of its own, which he founded in 1782.  But 1782 also saw a competitor in London set up shop just down the road from Astley’s Amphitheatre, calling his show the “Royal Circus,” after the Roman name for the circular theaters where chariot races were held.  While Astley, who lived till 1814, prevailed, and eventually established 18 other circuses in cities across Europe,   the term “circus” had,  by the 19th century, been adopted as a generic name for this new form of entertainment.

The circus came later to the western side of the Pond: English equestrian John Bill Ricketts opened the first American circus in Philadelphia in 1793; he later opened others in New York City and Boston.  President George Washington reportedly attended a Ricketts circus– and sold the company a horse.

The original “Big Top” (source: Tracy Chevalier)

Written by (Roughly) Daily

January 9, 2010 at 1:01 am

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