In geography, a toponym is the name of a place (England), especially one describing landscape (Pacific Ocean). In the linguistic sense - not yet in OED - a toponym is a word derived from a place name. This week we present linguistic toponyms.
New York minute (used only in the phrase in a New York minute) – immediately; at once; in a heartbeat
On this toponym the authorities need a bit of correction. They include no recorded usage before 1967 (see World Wide Words; OED is similar), but we can take this back almost a century further, to the 1870 quotation below.
Also, the usually-given definition given is not quite correct. OED says, "New York minute: a very short period of time; a moment, an instant"; AHD is similar. Not so: you wouldn't say, "I can only stay for a New York minute;" for an instant; briefly. The term is not used with "for". It appears only in the phrase "in a New York minute;" in a very short time; in an instant; immediately. For the importance of this distinction, see our final and quotation. It is a bit blue, but Mr. Holmes is saying that he would undertake an activity immediately, but not briefly.
. . .He was preparing to settle into an all night's sleep, when a scratching sound was heard beneath the bed. Hastily rising, he jerked on his unmentionables, and, dropping on all fours, began to crawl beneath the bed after the midnight intruder.
. . .He found it, and in one-fourth of a New York minute all the clothes that were upon him would not have made a bib for a China doll. He finally found himself in the corner partially scalped, with his lower limbs looking as though he had been through a wool-carding machine; while at this juncture, with a spit and a growl, a catamount disappeared through the open window.
[Patrick] Holmes leaned in and asked, "Let's get business out of the way. Why did you suggest we have dinner tonight?" Stealey gave him a coy smile. "Do I have to have a reason to want to have dinner with a handsome, fabulously wealthy, powerful man?" Holmes's response was a mix of primal grunt and laughter. "Oh, Peggy, you know I'd screw your brains out in a New York minute, but we both also know you're a dick tease. So … let's just keep our attention above the table."
– Vince Flynn, Memorial Day
While we're in New York City, here's another New York toponym.
Bronx cheer -- a loud sound, imitating a fart, used to express contemptuous or derisive scorn. It is produced by vibrating the lips while exhaling explosively. (can be used figuratively)
Another term for this is raspberry (Cockney rhyming slang: raspberry from raspberry tart = fart). Many dictionaries are too coy to come out and say that a Bronx cheer sounds like a fart. They instead refer you to "raspberry", where the flatulent reference is buried amid more fruitful definitions.
– George Avalos, Contra Costa (CA) Times, Oct. 25, 2005
Goldilocks economy – an economy that is not so overheated that it causes inflation, and not so cool that it causes a recession
– John Makin, Sunday Times (London), December 12, 1999
This rate of expansion is considered by many to be the maximum that the nation can sustain without inflation. … Stephen S. Roach … thinks they can be balanced for a while … But the consensus view of most economists is that a Goldilocks economy cannot survive beyond 1990.
– Louis Uchitelle, The New York Times, November 13, 1988 (earliest citation)
Today, our toponyms leave New York with a quote about a much sadder departure from that city. Our word is current, but our quote antedates OED's earliest by more than a decade. It tells a chilling, true tale, and it evokes the time, before the Panama Canal, when China was a terribly far voyage from New York City.
. . .The jury convicted him of manslaughter in the third degree. Great sympathy was manifested for him in Court, and his sentence, undoubtedly, will be as lenient as the law allows.
[Note: To me, to shanghai is to say, "I need a volunteer – and that means you!" That is, 1.a person , 2. chosen just because he is available, 3. is coerced 4. into doing work. Some broader meanings, which you'll find in usage and dictionaries, are in my judgment not firmly enough established to be "correct". Specifically they are: appropriating a thing¹; or coercing a particular person²; or coercing him to something other than labor³; or using trickery to induce [not coerce] a voluntary act.*]
¹the [ad] campaign shanghaied most of the Garden State's radio spectrum
²Quinlin … is shanghaied by his estranged wife and [his boss]
³Quinlin … is shanghaied ... and packed off to "whisky school," the detox ward
. . .[also OED: "to constrain or compel"; also AHD below]
*AHD: We were shanghaied into buying worthless securities.
Sources of quotes: ¹David Plotz, Slate Magazine, June 2, 2000 ²Marilyn Stasio, New York Times, April 4, 1999; ³Stasio
This will be the longest word-of-the day to date.
Today's word is a 1754 coinage, but the OED definition does not match that of the coiner. This would be understandable if the meaning had changed in intervening usage, but in fact there was no such changed usage; indeed was no usage whatsoever until 1880, and very very little for another 78 years. OED had simply misdefined the word. Nonetheless, by virtue of OED's authority the misdefinition has become the accepted definition, and the word is so used today.
The details are an interesting story but are longer than some may wish; and they are best read before you see the word itself, to avoid confusing with today's familiar meaning. If you wish the full story, you'll fined it here. If you're content with just the short version, just skip to the next post.
The tale begins when Michele Tramezzino, a printer in 1555 Venice, published a book that become quite popular. It claims to be an old Persian tale, translated into Italian, of three princes of Ceylon. (Some think there was no such Persian tale, Tramezzino setting his story in Ceylon as a marketing ploy.¹) In any event The tale was popular enough on the continent to be reprinted in Italian and translated into German and French, all within fifty years (1884, 1883 and 1610 respectively).
But it did not much catch on in England. There was no English translation until 1722 (from a 1719 French version), and none direct-from-the-Italian until – get this – 1965, a full four centuries after Tramezzino. Thus presumably few Englishmen knew the tale.
One who did know was Horace Walpole, who mentioned the tale in a 1754 letter. (He'd probably read the book as a boy – he was 5 when the English version appeared – for recall his is imperfect: a camel in the tale becomes a mule in his recall.) Walpole comments that he uses the word ceylonity to describe an event like those befalling the tale's three princes, and he explains his word by an example from the tale itself another from then-current events.
Not a single other soul used this word, either then or after Walpole's correspondence was published in 1833. The word did not "catch on", presumably because few Englishmen knew the tale. It finally resurfaced in 1875, as Walpole scholars were discussing the old Walpole letter itself, and a letter to an erudite Oxford journal asked, "Where in his admirable letters does Walpole refer to the story of the Princess [sic] of Ceylon?" So too an 1879 letter commented, "Ceylonity – A word coined by Horace Walpole … The word has been quoted in some recent monthly," and raised questions about it.
. . .Journal editor Edward Solly replied to each inquiry and then, in 1880, used the word himself. His usage noted Walpole but, for the first time, was not using the "ceylonity" solely as a reference to Walpole's usage. Perhaps this is why OED credits this by Solly as the first usage since Walpole, 126 years earlier. For 75 more years the word remained very rare (with only 135 print-examples through 1958), but thereafter it spread like wildfire.
However, OED's definition does not match Walpole's (which, for that matter, does not well match the tale itself). In view of the long lack of usage, OED cannot plead that usage had changed. Nonetheless, the OED meaning has become the one now used. Let's explore the differences.
I told a white lie in saying that the word is ceylonity. Had I told you the true word, it would color your reading of the the history. The actually word appears in the next post.
Credit: almost all the above is from these three articles by Richard Boyle, which provide further detail. A book-length discussion was published last year, authored by Robert K. Merton and Elinor Barber.
Edited to add footnote, which was inadvertantly omitted.
¹As I understand it, the intelligentsia as a parlor game would pose to each other trivia questions from popular books, particularly ones set in the exotic mysterious East – much as today's Harry Potter fans enjoy talking Potter trivia with each other. Many books were published to provide fodder for that game, and Ceylon itself was at least somewhat in the news at the time. Did Tramezzino make up his supposedly-Persian tale or its eastern setting? One wonders if any such tale been found in the Persian, but I can find no scholarly comment on that question.This message has been edited. Last edited by: wordcrafter,
SEE THE ABOVE POST FIRST!
Today's toponym will yield for us, as a bonus, a group of eponyms.
serendipity – the faculty of making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident. Also, the fact or an instance of such a discovery.
[coined by Horace Walpole, who notes and explains it in an 1754 letter (but with a different meaning). Walpole was referring to a tale titled The Three Princes of Serendip. 'Serendip' is one of the old names for what we now call Ceylon or Sri Lanka.]
– Michael Stroh, Serendipity yields buckyball trap for gases, Science News, May 30, 1992
buckyball – a short name for the first-known fullerene; it is ball-shaped
fullerene – a class of molecules with carbon atoms arranged as in a soccer ball: pentagons and hexagons (each with carbon atoms at all points) are arranged to form a sphere or other hollow shape. (A buckytube is any fullerene shaped like a tube or cylinder.)
The formal name for buckyball is buckminsterfullerene, named for R. Buckminster Fuller because its structure resembles Fuller's geodesic domes.This message has been edited. Last edited by: wordcrafter,
After reading "Ceylonity", I'm ashamed that my brain didn't put the pieces together and get Serendipity. I'll credit it with the fact I just woke up.
wailing wall – a place to vent one's woes or (less often) to seek relief from them
Continuing west from Ceylon we reach the Old City of Jerusalem. Here, at a remnant of Solomon's temple, Orthodox Jews come to pray, to lament, and to place between the stones slips of paper bearing prayer requests. It's called the Wailing Wall (many prefer the older name Western Wall,) and you can view the its website with live webcam.
A few dictionaries also recognize a broader usage of wailing wall. OED says "also transf. and fig." without further detail, and MW says "a source of comfort and consolation in misfortune". To me the usage seems slightly different, so I've composed the defininiton above. Here are multiple usage-examples (the last two from MW's Dictionary of Allusions), from which you can judge for yourself.
– Bryan Burrough, Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco
I do not advocate that we turn television into a twenty-seven-inch wailing wall, where longhairs constantly moan about the state of our culture and our defense.
– address by Edward R. Murrow, October 12, 1958 (from secondary source)
"You sound like an old fud."
"Knowing you has made me an old fud."
"Yeah, yeah, the wailing wall is around back."
– MaryJanice Davidson, Undead and Unemployed
this window in Hammersmith, West London, is … a shopfront for the booming black market for migrant workers. In Warsaw the shop is celebrated as the "wailing wall" – the first port of call for hundreds of Polish migrants arriving … in search of work and a life of riches. … thousands of migrants have simply headed for the Wailing Wall in search of an escape from poverty. Hundreds of adverts, all written in Polish, offered an array of jobs.
– Anthony France, Migrants flock to 'wailing wall', Sunday Mirror, Apr. 4, 2004
She [Dear Abby] explained that she had never written professionally, but she knew she could write an advice column because all her life she had been an amateur "wailing wall without portfolio."
– Deseret News (UPI), January 12, 1996
Today people nationwide will take such problems to the … rally in Washington – the city that has become the Wailing Wall for all of America's woes.
– Lewis W. Diuguid, Kansas City Star, June 1, 1996
When you wear your levis, your denim jeans, you're wearing three toponyms and an eponym or two. Those words are too well-known to need definition, but to help explain why they are toponyms, we present two less familiar words.
serge – a woolen twill
twill – a fabric woven to have a surface of parallel diagonal ridges
[from the same root as two and twice]
We've already seen that fustian (toponym #1) is a type of cloth thought to be named for El Fustat, Egypt, where it was made. Genoa, Italy produced a twilled cotton fustian, called geanes fustian, after the city (#2), and Nîmes, France produced a woolen twill (that is, a serge) that was similarly called serge de Nîmes (serge of Nîmes), our third toponym.
Over time, geanes fustian shortened to geanes, geane, gene, or jene and finally became jean (UK) or jeans (US). The name of the Nîmes cloth shifted to a cotton fabric, rather than a serge, and de Nîmes was shortened to denim.
Those are our toponyms, but what of our eponyms? Levis take their name from manufacturer Levi Strauss, who sold to the miners of the 1849 California Gold rush. His selling point was an innovation that made his pants far more durable: he reinforced the stress points with rivets. A possible second eponym is Genoa. The name is of unclear origin but may trace to the god Janus, who also gave us the name January.
For further information on the history of the words denim and jeans, see the Levi Straus & Co. site.This message has been edited. Last edited by: wordcrafter,
Let us also nod in the direction of the Crimea, where British worthies gave us the cardigan and the raglan (sleeve).
Surely you mean 1849?
Thank you, Seanahan; that's one of my recurrant typos.
sherry – a certain type of wine (named from the place where it was originally produced)
Today's toponym may also be an eponym.
The ancient Romans named many a colony after Caesar, and among them is one in the Andalusia region of Spain. Sources differ on the details: I cannot tell you which Caesar; it's unclear whether their name was Urbs Caesaris or Asido Caesariana; and the exactly location is sometimes identified with one modern town, sometimes with another 35 kilometers miles away.
In any event, by the 1500s the name had evolved to Xeres (now rendered as Jerez), and a wine produced nearby was quite naturally called vino de Xeres. In the Spanish of the time, the X was pronounced sh. By 1540 English was using this name for the wine, spelling it sherris or sherries to match the Spanish pronunciation. (You'll find the former in Shakespeare's 2 Hen. IV).
Sherris/sherries is a singular noun, but it sounds like a plural. By 1604 the form sherry was being used as a singular, on the mistaken assumption that sherris was a plural.