Friday, 28 September 2007

A.W.A.D. - Toponyms

Once upon a time, a person's name was his complete identification and address. It could comprise his given name, profession, father or mother'sname, a personal trait, and even the name of his village. That was because where one lived defined a person as much as anything else. The place of origin often turned into a generic term for some personal characteristic.

The English language is replete with such expressions where the name of a place has become associated with a particular quality, such as laconic (using few words) from Laconia in ancient Greece or bohemian (unconventional) from Bohemia in the Czech Republic. There are hundreds of toponyms --words derived from the names of places. This week we visit five places that have become toponyms in the English language.

abderian
(AB-dir-ee-uhn) adjective
Given to excessive or incessant laughter.

[After Abdera, in ancient Thrace (present day Bulgaria, Turkey, and Greece), the birth place of Democritus, the Laughing Philosopher. Location on the map: http://www.wordsmith.org/awad/toponyms.html]

artesian
(ahr-TEE-zhuhn) adjective
Pertaining to a well that has water rising to the surface under natural pressure, without the need of a pump.

[After Artois, a former province in France, where many such wells were drilled.]

hessian
(HESH-uhn) adjective
1. A mercenary soldier or a ruffian.
2. Burlap

[After Hesse, a state in central Germany. Sense 1 derives from the fact that Hessian mercenary served in the British army in America during the American Revolution.]

vaudeville
(VAWD-vil) noun
Theatrical entertainment featuring a variety of acts such as songs, dances, comedy, acrobatics, magic, pantomime, etc.

[From French vaudeville, from Old French vaudevire, a shortening of chanson du Vau de Vire (song of the Valley of Vire), from Vire, a valley of Calvados, Normandy in France where satirical folksongs were composed by Olivier Basselin in the fifteenth century.]

brigadoon
(BRIG-uh-doon) noun
An idyllic place that is out of touch with reality or one that makes its appearance for a brief period in a long time.

[From Brigadoon, a village in the musical of the same name, by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, based on the story Germelshausen by Friedrich Gerstacker. Brigadoon is under a spell that makes it invisible to outsiders except on one day every 100 years.]

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