The Hoosierist: Name-Droppers

Weird town names, a vice presidential museum, and self-driving cars. Ask The Hoosierist.

November 20161 Comment

Q: Why did Indiana name so many towns after already-famous places, then mispronounce their names (Ver-sales, Bray-zil)?
A: In the case of Versailles (the Indiana hamlet, not the French chateau after which it’s named), The Hoosierist always assumed its residents didn’t want to waste all those perfectly good letters that remain silent in the French pronunciation (ver-SIGH). According to Ann Bunger, a linguistics lecturer at Indiana University, that might not be far from the truth. “It seems like locals are basing their Americanized pronunciations on the spelling of the words, rather than on the way they were originally pronounced,” she says. And given that places like Bray-zil, Mile-an, and Pay-roo were all founded by people who probably never heard an actual Brazilian, Milanese, or Peruvian say the words aloud, can they be faulted for not getting it exactly right?

Q: I just remembered Dan Quayle has his own vice presidential museum. Did the Pence nomination create more interest in that?
A: The Quayle Vice Presidential Learning Center, a Huntington fixture created to honor the 44th vice president, is indeed enjoying a nice attendance bump thanks to the double whammy of the Indiana bicentennial and Mike Pence becoming Donald Trump’s wingman. Executive director Daniel Johns thinks the place has a shot at breaking its 2008 record, when 10,000 folks looked at, among other things, Quayle’s law school diploma and his old Little League uniform. It’s not as dramatic as a presidential library, but what do you expect from something that honors the human version of the tire donut you keep in your trunk in case of a flat?

Q: Are there any rules concerning self-driving cars in Indiana?
A: Amazingly, owners of vehicles with advanced autopilot functions are subject to no special regulations in this state. Which means that if you buy a Tesla, you’re free to immediately engage the feature and get your Jetsons on. However, you should still keep your hands at 10 and 2 and be ready to take over at a moment’s notice. “It’s more of a souped-up cruise control right now,” says one Tesla employee, who asked for anonymity. “You don’t just put in a destination and the car drives you there.” But rest assured, that’s coming. Tesla collects data from vehicles on the road, then downloads a continuous stream of software improvement to its cars. Eventually, the system will grow so sophisticated it truly can drive you anywhere. Either that or it will become self-aware and launch the dreaded machine uprising.

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