Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Joke placenames: Berserkistan

I've written before about the placename element -stan and its use. It's not only for playing on American ignorance of Central Asia, but gets extended to the U.S., as noted earlier: Dumbfuckistan = 'parts of the United States that voted for Bush'.

A couple of times, most recently this morning on the radio, I've heard Berserkistan, basically meaning, as far as I can tell, the transparent 'crazy land'. This cracks me up for a presumably unintended reason: I can't hear that joke without thinking of it as the land of the original guys called berserkr, the warrior cult — not the metal band. That's a stamp you don't want in your passport.

4 comments:

...tom... said...

...
I may not be the most learned or erudite reader . . .but this:

"I can't hear that joke without thinking of it as the land of the original guys called berserkr, the warrior cult — not the metal band. That's a stamp you don't want in your passport."

...leaves me scratching my head.

Simply a matter of 'cultural ignorance' on my part I am sure.

Ben Zimmer said...

Reminiscent of Be(r)serkley for Berkeley...

Mr. Verb said...

Sorry, didn't mean to be obscure, especially when it was a very funny point. Here's a rough sketch of the background: In early Germanic times, there was a cult of particularly aggressive warriors. They wore bear or wolf skins -- in Old Norse, ber + serkr means 'bear-shirt' (and some stories have it that they went into battle naked, I think) -- and whipped themselves into wild frenzies. This is the source of our word 'berserk'.

I was just trying to say that the usual meaning of 'crazy land' for Berserkistan is kind of funny, but the thought of going to a land populated by actual berserkers is pretty scary.

Going to Be(r)serk(e)ley is a very different trip.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I'm the one who coined the term.

In 1995 I was a photog in Russia and Chechnya. Going through Moscow i picked up the paper and in it was some sort of outbreak of craziness in some "I-stan" I had never heard of. Collectively started calling them "Berserkistan."

Fast forward to later that year when I met Mike Linder, LA producer and original concept originator of America's Most Wanted. (www.linder.com)

We launched the first strictly Internet based news service in history from Bosnia (where I had been working through the early 90s).

This was back when a 56k modem was hot stuff.

It was called..."Berserkistan."

Fragments of it are scattered around the internet to this day.

Jim Bartlett