The Phenomenon of Fictional Place Names

Lower Slobbovia is a fictional manifestation of Al Capp in his” Li’l Abner” cartoon strip.  According to a description in one of his strips, it is in the arctic regions so the average temperatures are well below zero.  Also, according to the illustration below, it is below sea level; however, the humans have no problem breathing.  It is telling that the woman in the third panel is up to her knees in snow, but she is not dressed for sub-zero weather.  Apparently, all of the residents of Lower Slobbovia are acclimated to the weather, and/or since Al Capp prided himself on his ability to draw attractive women, he was bound and determined to under-dress his hotties as often as possible.

Somehow or another, after years of periodically leaving Dogpatch, USA and the trials and tribulations of Li’l Abner and Daisy Mae, Al Capp’s cartoon strip ventured to the icy realm of Slobbovia—either Upper or Lower, or both (as with this episode), the term “Lower Slobbovia” made its way into some dictionaries.  As cartoon readers know, anything can happen in the comics, so the need for gaseous oxygen is suspended, and gravity transitions from being a law to a suggestion. defines “Lower Slobbovia” as “Any place considered to be remote, poor, or unenlightened.”  The definition makes no comment on how enlightened the creator of the cartoon was.

Lower Slobbovia

In the episode that begins with the cartoon above, a whale eater dislodges a whale stuck in a rock formation that is holding the Slobbovian continent in place.  That turns Slobbovia upside-down so that the Lower Slobbovians are above sea level and the Upper Slobbovians are below sea level.  The rest of the sequences tell the story of turning the continent back the way it was, of course, returning the world to normalcy—whatever that is.

Slobbovia literally means “by way of Slobbo,” as “via” means “by way of.”  However, it is probably more of a take-off on the names of some places like Moravia in Eastern Europe or Monrovia, the capital of Liberia (Bolivia may fit, but it is an eponym).  That suffix makes it sound, to American ears, like a place that is far away, or to hippies who were reading the funnies, far out.  Thus, it became synonymous with any strange, foreign location.

More recently, in his cartoon strip “Dilbert,” Scott Adams needed to create a name for a remote place that housed the tech business’s skunk works.  He chose the name “Elbonia” for the same reasons that Al Capp chose the name “Slobbovia.”  Like Slobbovia, Elbonia is an unlivable backwater populated by unenlightened residents who, while using proper English much of the time, say things that Americans might find peculiar at best.  Elbonia is likely Albania spelled sideways, and like” Moravia,” it is a term with which we are slightly familiar, but not too familiar.  It is also in Eastern Europe.

Dilbert Elbonia

In Dilbert, the fictitious place is waste deep in mud instead of snow.  The Elbonian women are not scantily clad because Adams does not draw his women any better than he draws the men.  And while the Elbonian laborer and foreman do not speak in a corrupted English accent, their conversation indicates a lack of enlightenment—at least from a western perspective.

If “Elbonia” becomes a cartoonym synonymous with Lower Slobbovia, it will go through a process toward acceptance.  It must get used by others who are indicating a remote place with people who are poor and unenlightened.  It must be understood by the audience of the speaker or writer.  It must, eventually, when used in writing, be uncapitalized.  That is what takes the longest.  Jonathan Swift’s term “Lilliputian,” was coined in 1726 and means small or petty, but it is still capitalized in some cases.  Merriam Webster’s 10th Collegiate Dictionary allows for “lilliputian” to be uncapitalized, so it has made it from a place name in a satirical novel through the process as an adjective describing small or petty people all the way to a toponym.  Under the circumstances, both “Lower Slobbovia” and “Elbonian” have a long way to go.

5 responses

  1. In Australian newspapers, the king was a little tyrant named “King Henry the One-Eighth”.
    Slovenia: a possible inspiration for “Slobovia”. It’s known for its heavy snow cover.

  2. Why do poor, undeveloped, fictional places as described by Al Capp have mostly Eastern European-sounding place names? Slobovia and Elbonia clearly so. The inhabitants in Capp’s world are no less primitive and backward.

    I think this reinforces the attitude that America is the best place on earth and everywhere else, such as Eastern Europe, is not worthy of serious consideration as civilized places with civilized people. No wonder when some Americans travel overseas, there comes with them condescending attitudes and behavior. If only these ignorant stereotypes and caricatures would end, perhaps Americans might actually become interested in the rest of the world and realize there a foreign places with advanced cultures, lifestyles, and complicated histories beyond their borders.

    1. Slobovia and Elbonia sound like California and Georgia to someone from Asia. There are some names Americans are so familiar with that they don’t think of them as being foreign. Do these names play on prejudices? Probably. Is that always bad? Not necessarily. It makes us think about what we think about.

  3. “I think” I was enjoying a very pleasant discussion until the “hate the ignorant Americans” bleat surfaced. Perhaps the best way for Americans to gain a bit more respect from the oh-so-superior Europeans would be to stay at home and leave them to enjoy their superiority on their own dime….or nickle.

    1. I am never sure how to respond to comments like this. Can the Europeans spell “nickel” correctly?

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