Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Entry for 13 September 2009:

The town I grew up in, Lodi, California, is just east of the San Joaquin River Delta, an area of rich, dark farmland used extensively for farming asparagus and interwoven with a network of waterways. Many of these are referred to locally as “sloughs” (rhymes with “you’s”, which is Glaswegian Scots for the second person plural pronoun).

However, there are other “sloughs”: There is also what a snake does with its old skin, but the getting-rid-of-something-no-longer-wanted verb “slough” is pronounced with a final “f” so it rhymes with “stuff”. However, on my way back from the BAPCA conference, a few minutes east of Reading on the historic Great Western train line, I was surprised to find our train stopping at the town of “Slough”, pronounced so that it rhymes with “now”. In British English, a slough (rhyming with “now”) is a muddy or marshy area, but in American English a slough (rhyming with “you”) is a secondary fresh water channel in a river delta (French: “bayou”). Both are wetlands, which we now know to be very important ecologically for harboring different animal species, for filtering out contaminants from the water supply, and for protecting coast areas from hurricane and other severe storms.

Although unkind jokes on the name of the town of Slough (rhyming with “now”) apparently go back to Shakespeare, its citizens should be proud of their association with such a vital and charming geographical feature, and not be tempted to slough off this ancient name in favor of some soulless, more modern corporate alternative.

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