An isopleth is a map whose coloring is based on some smooth, continuous, non-geographic variable. Of course, day to day, most of us just call these “heat maps”. In this case, dialect differences around the U.S.
Including this one: the classic is whether you call it pop, soda or coke:
I can remember when I was a kid growing up in Buffalo that someone asked for a soda once and I didn’t know what they meant. And I can remember getting a warm fuzzy when I first moved to Utah from Alabama when I was 26 that I was back in the pop zone (although it apparently isn’t strong enough to show up well on this map).
But, there’s other cool ones too (keep in mind that for a lot of them, the regional differences aren’t that obvious), like what do you call a potato bug:
I grew up in the potato bug zone, and so have my kids … but now we call them roly-poly’s, probably after a picture book we used to read together. Does that make us weird?
This brought to mind an old bit of trivia: where does the name bourbon come from? This is old, because I’d tried (and failed) to figure this out a few years ago. This time I succeeded, but there’s a lot of threads to tie together.
Bourbon is a form of whiskey. Whiskey is one of the distilled spirits made from grain (a plant from the grass family, instead of other starchy plants like sugar cane, potatoes, rice, or sorghum).
Most whiskeys are defined by a recipe derived in some location: like Scotch, Irish Whiskey, Canadian Whiskey or Tennessee Whiskey. Others are named after the prime ingredient: rye.
But bourbon isn’t an ingredient (bourbon is primarily made from corn) or a place, is it?
And most of it is made in, and around, Bardstown, and the areas surrounding Nelson County. There is a Bourbon County, but it isn’t that close, and no bourbon is made there.
So, why bourbon?
Well, prior to independence, and in the early days of the republic, many states claimed unsettled land immediately to their west. At the time, when settlers moved west over the mountains, the were moving away from civilization but they weren’t officially leaving the state. In the case of Virginia, this over the mountains area was given county status in 1777, as Kentucky County, within the state of Virginia.
Some of this I kind of knew. But today, I hit upon the website of a town called Cynthiana, where someone has lovingly recorded all the details.
Here’s a contemporary map showing the counties in 1777 (sorry I didn’t choose their “clear” color scheme):
Kentucky County (on the far left) roughly corresponds with the eastern part of the current state of Kentucky.
A few years later, Kentucky County was broken into 3 counties:
Here’s a map from 1784 showing the area around where the 3 counties meet:
In the above map, Louisville would be near the center of the left edge, while Cincinnati would be near the center top edge. Virginia continued to subdivide counties, and created the original Bourbon County, as shown in this map of the counties in the late 1780’s:
Back in those days, distilling your corn harvest into liquor was one way to both preserve its value, as well as making it more readily transportable (adding to its value). Distilling came to America with the Scots-Irish, who settled heavily into Kentucky, and their liquor became known as bourbon (my guess is that most of the liquor that made it east over the mountains came from the easternmost county).
On days that are going to be windy, I can see the winds from Los Angeles and Phoenix converging towards the place I live … before they get here.
P.S. I wrote this about 2 months ago when this map first came out, but I actually used the map during Tuesday night’s storm to find out how close calmer winds were behind it, and whether or not I should stain my deck the next morning. The map indicated I should, and I did, with no wind problems.
The white areas out west are sparsely inhabited areas. This is most interesting for regions in the east.
What I think is kind of cool, is to pretend your taking a long road trip. Then following the Craigslist zones is similar to keeping track of the signs on the interstate, that are always showing you the city that is 2 hours down the road.
For example, I did Tuscaloosa to Buffalo, via Knoxville a bunch of times. According to Craigslist this is Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, Gadsden, Northwest Georgia, Chattanooga, Knoxville, Lexington, Athens (?), Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus, Mansfield, Cleveland, Ashtabula, Erie, Chautauqua and Buffalo. If you put someone on the interstate, and told them to follow these signs, they’d have a good chance of making it there.
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