Did you know that there is an oddly shaped border between two countries that is referred to as “Winston’s Hiccup”? Rumor has it that Winston Churchill drew it with a stroke of a pen on a Sunday afternoon during a liquid lunch in Cairo. It is not true, by the way, but the name stuck. Amazing, right?
“I think I’ll write a book today,” the writer Georges Simenon was said to tell his wife at breakfast. “Fine,” she would reply, “but what will you do in the afternoon?” Winston Churchill was similarly prolific, and not just in the field of letters. In his later years, he liked to boast that in 1921 he created the British mandate of Trans-Jordan, the first incarnation of what still is the Kingdom of Jordan, “with the stroke of a pen, one Sunday afternoon in Cairo” .
Also like Simenon, Churchill wasn’t averse to the odd tipple, and according to some, that Sunday afternoon in Cairo followed a particularly liquid lunch. As a consequence, the then colonial secretary’s penmanship proved a bit unsteady, allegedly producing a particularly erratic borderline. The result is still visible on today’s maps: the curious zigzag of the border between Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
Starting at the Gulf of Aqaba, the Jordanian-Saudi border drifts northeastward as six relatively short, straight lines, manacled together into an unsteady chain gang that doesn’t quite know which direction to take. Then, in a single, 90-mile stretch, the border suddenly and spectacularly lurches northwest, aiming for the southern Lebanese coast. But finally, it seems to regain its footing, continuing the 130 miles northeast toward the Iraqi border in a near-straight line, as if running away from all those twists and turns.
The resultant Saudi triangle sticking into Jordan’s side is one of the more remarkable features on the map of the Middle East. Its northern tip is less than 70 miles removed from the Jordanian capital of Amman. At just over 100 miles, it also represents the shortest distance between Saudi Arabia and Jerusalem.
Those facts might have geopolitical resonance today, but according to the legend of its creation, the border owes its strange shape to nothing more significant than Churchill’s propensity for champagne, brandy and whisky. This stretch of border is still, and in retrospect rather euphemistically, referred to as Winston’s Hiccup, or Churchill’s Sneeze.


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