Monday, April 17, 2006

April 17: Notorious Places Day

On this date in 1961, Cuban exiles, supported by the U.S. government attempted an unsuccessful invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. The goal of the invasion was the overthrow of the Communist regime of Fidel Castro, who had successfully led a revolution in Cuba in 1959. The invasion was a colossal failure, causing much embarrassment to President John F. Kennedy.

The Bay of Pigs lives on today, not so much as a geographic place, but as a symbol of failure. Like the Bay of Pigs, there are other geographic locations that have entered the language based on the notorious events that occurred there. The Oxford Dictionary of Allusions catalogs hundreds of allusions drawn from history, literature, religion, and mythology(1). Each allusion, whether a person, place, or thing, is categorized based on the theme it has come to embody, such as fear, death, or mystery. Among these many allusions are several notorious places -- places that have leapt off the map and entered our language. Today when these places are conjured, we are transported not to a place, but to an idea, such as the military failure at The Bay of Pigs.

The following are other notorious places that have entered the language, emblematic of the negative:

Chappaquiddick: Failure
Siberia and the Gulag Archipelago: Unpleasant or Wicked Places
Little Bighorn: Defeat
Waterloo: Defeat
Alamo: Defeat
Auschwitz, Dachau, and Treblinka: Death and Persecution
Alcatraz: Prisons and Punishment

The sites below are not listed in the Oxford Dictionary of Allusions; however, chances are you will see them used as symbols in the pages of recent newspapers.

Three-mile Island (1979) and Chernobyl (1986): Failure and Accidents
My Lai (1968) Massacre and Death
Kent State (1970) Massacre and Death
Watergate (1972) Scandal and Abuse of Political Power
Abu Ghraib (2003) Abuse and Torture

Today's Challenge: A Place for Everything
Match the ideas below with the specific place that is associated with them. See answers after the Quote of the Day.

1. Beautiful music
2. Destruction
3. Lawlessness or unregulated conflict
4. Change and transformation
5. Victory

A. Dodge City
B. The Road to Damascus
C. Arcadia
D. Hiroshima
E. Agincourt

Quote of the Day: Failure never hurt anybody. It is fear of failure that kills you .... You got to go down the alley and take those chances.... --Jack Lemmon

Answers: 1. C, 2. D, 3. A, 4. B 5. E

1-Delahunty, Andrew, Sheila Dignen, and Penny Stock (Editors). Oxford Dictionary of Allusions. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

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