BOY, it’s been cold this week. I reached for my long johns on Monday evening when the local TV forecast said it would be minus nine at Spadeadam.

Minus nine is pretty cold, but Spadeadam is far more intriguing. I’d never heard of it, I couldn’t locate it and I couldn’t even pronounce it.

It turns out that Spadeadam is north of the A69 near Haltwhistle, between Carlisle and Hexham. Disappointingly, rather than being pronounced “spad-y-adam”, it is “spade-adam”. Since 1955, Spadeadam has been the home of the RAF’s largest base, in terms of area covered. It was set up to test the Blue Streak ballistic missile and now it specialises in electronic warfare training.

The peculiar name is believed to come from Welsh “ysbyddaden”, which means “the place where the hawthorn tree grows”.

And the only other thing I know about it is that it can be cold enough for long johns, the meaning of which was the subject to debate on yesterday’s Bob Fischer radio show on BBC Tees. There was the marvellous suggestion that long johns are named after John L Sullivan, a late 19th Century boxer known as the “Boston Strong Boy”, who was the last world heavyweight bare knuckle champion and the first champion of the gloved era. He took to the ring wearing tight-fitting long-legged underpants, known as the “Union suit”, and he was pretty mean. “I can lick anybody, anywhere, anytime,” he growled over a defeated opponent.

But although he was undoubtedly big, he wasn’t excessively tall – he was 5ft 10½ – and there’s no evidence that he was ever nicknamed “Long John”. It would seem, therefore, although it is a good story, there is little evidence that it is true.

It is also said that “long johns” are named after the Derbyshire cotton mill of John Smedley, founded in 1784, which made such apparel, but there doesn’t seem to be much evidence to support this theory, either.

The Oxford English Dictionary first records “long john” as being used in Wisconsin in the US in 1941, so the best guess is that it is a rhyming Americanism that came over here during the war.

THE other word I have been pondering this week has been “hullabaloo”, which is the name of the new children’s theatre which has opened in Darlington. “Hullabaloo” is a brilliant northern word, meaning “tumultuous noise or clamorous confusion”, and again no one really knows its origin. There’s an attractive theory that it was once a wolf-hunting cry, but there’s no evidence to support that. It’s got an appealing rhythm to it that, like “long johns”, makes it fun to say.

But perhaps the words I should have been pondering this week were “fuselage” and “fusillade”. In this space last week I said I had received a “fuselage of tweets” about the discovery of a Roman sword at Hadrian’s Wall when I meant to say “fusillade of tweets”. “Fuselage”, the elongated body of an aeroplane, comes from a Latin word “fusus” meaning a “spindle”, whereas “fusillade”, meaning a rapid firing of guns, also comes from a Latin word “fusus” meaning “spindle” – a plane is spindle-shaped as was an early fuse for a bomb. All very confusing.

To continue the theme of strangely-named woollenwear, I shall pull over my head a balaclava of shame for not being very clever.