Of Leading Tickles, Blow Me Downs and Other Cultural Ties to the Land

Of Leading Tickles, Blow Me Downs and Other Cultural Ties to the Land

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Murton (2011) quotes landscape architect John Corner when he says that landscape is “neither universally shared nor manifested in the same way across cultures and time. … To assume that every society shares an American, English, or French view of landscape, or that other societies possess any version of landscape at all, is to wrongly impose on other cultures one’s own image” (Murton, 2011, p. 75).  Many people are surprised to find out that the way that people see and divide up our environments is not universal. One example comes from Kanyen’keha (the Mohawk language), where there isn’t just one name for the Mohawk River in New York state. Going easterly, towards where it meets the Hudson River, the river is documented as Teyoken, which means, literally “splits in two”,  a reference to it splitting or branching at its junction with the Hudson River at Cohoes.

(Map by Ingram, 2019; please contact me for a copy of this map without watermarks)

In the other direction, heading West towards Oneida lake, it’s called Teyahoowakwat, which means “pick up the canoe”.  This is a reference to the fact that you have to get out and pick up the canoe, or “portage” to Woods Creek, a little over a kilometer away, in order to continue a water-based journey which is also reflected in the English place names the Great Oneida Portage or the Great Oneida Carrying Place.

(Map by Ingram, 2019; please contact me for a copy of this map without watermarks)

This variety of ways of seeing landscape makes sense given how diverse the environments across the planet are: people live in a huge variety of global environments, from very arid climates like in the interior of Australia, to tropical climates, to the Arctic. As a result, in some varieties of Inuktitut, there are words for salt water ice, fresh water ice, whether the ice melts or is permanent, its relationship to the tide and land, etc., as well as landforms created by permafrost – Pingo. However, note that there are *not* 100, or even 50 words for snow, a folk myth perpetuated by Diamond Jenness. (If you want to find out more about this, explore the (Siku Ice Atlas).

Landscape terms are often borrowed into other languages: the word “muskeg” comes from the Nehiyaw language Canadian Encyclopedia, 2019, and the word “bayou” was borrowed from the Biloxi because English didn’t have an exact word for that landscape feature (West, 1954). There are actually many interesting landscape terms used in North America, in addition to muskeg,  some of which explain the more puzzling place names: For example, Blow-Me-Down, Newfoundland is actually named for a landscape feature. As is Leading Tickles: (Via the Dictionary of Newfoundland English, 2019).

More interesting geographical terms can be found here:


These are just a few examples of how the study of place names can lend insight into the diversity of global environments, as well as help us understand how different people from around the world see and understand these diverse environments.


The Canadian Encyclopedia. (2006). “Muskeg”. Accessed at https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/muskeg

Murton, B. (2011). “Embedded in place: ‘Mirror knowledge’ and ‘simultaneous landscapes’ among Māori” in Mark, D., Turk, A.G., Burenhult, N. and Stea, D. (Eds.) Landscape in language: transdisciplinary perspectives. Philadelphia: Johns Benjamins.

Natural Resources Canada (2017). “Interesting geographical terms used in Canada.” Accessed at https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/earth-sciences/geography/origins-canadas-geographical-names/interesting-geographical-terms-used-canada/9216

Story, G.M., Kirwin, W.J and Widdowson, J. D. A. (2019). “Tickle”. A Dictionary of Newfoundland English. Accessed at https://www.heritage.nf.ca/dictionary/a-z-index.php#

West, R. (1954) “The Term ‘Bayou’ in the United States: A Study in the Geography of Place Names”. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol. 44, No. 1 (Mar., 1954), pp.63-74

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