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.  Dictionary.com 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.

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