29 April 2005

toponyms and nicknames

A while back I stumbled across an old book called Speaking Canadian English, a semi-descriptive piece written by one Mark M. Orkin, Q.C. (i.e. a lawyer), and published by General Publishing Co. Ltd., Toronto, in 1970. I checked it out just for curiosity.

Some of the material is not terribly insightful; for example, in the chapter on phonology, we read that Canadian English has flat American [a] (presumably, [æ]) rather than broad British [a]. A bit short on detail, there, considering the actual range of variation in the low-vowel continuum.

But there's a really interesting discussion of placename nicknames and perjoratives. I repeat some of it here, while noting that the observations are (mostly) not unique to Canadian English. Overall, there seems to be a phenomenon of cities receiving phrasal nicknames, and of cities receiving truncated nicknames.

Many Canadian cities have achieved, or had thrust upon them, what G.P. Krapp once called "poetic and oratorical second designations." Such appellations are often unflattering, in spite of which they acquire acceptance and may even be worn with civic pride. Thus Toronto has for a long time been widely know by some as Toronto the Good, and by others as Hogtown, the latter name indicating not a meat-packing industry--as Cincinnati was once called Porkopolis--but an alleged greed for influence and material wealth.

I have heard that Toronto the Good is also perjorative, referring to its clean-cut and square image (in contrast with the racier Montreal). Orkin continues:

In the same way, Ottawa is sometimes referred to as Bytown to imply not merely a link with the past, recalling the original name of that city and its founder, Colonel By, but also a small-town, nay, parochial outlook--qualities by no means confined to capital cities.

Some well-known civic nicknames in the U.S. include The Windy City (Chicago), The Big Apple (New York), Beantown (Boston), and the City of Brotherly Love (Philadelphia). Probably there's a great many more (The Old Pueblo for Tucson comes to mind). These phrasal nicknames resemble license-plate monikers - I can imagine if license plates were municipal, they'd carry exactly these slogans. I might be driving around with "Home of Ranch Dressing" involuntarily stamped on my bumper.

If you collect enough of them, you'd probably start to think that such a nickname is something a city is "supposed" to have. Thus Edmonton, in the 1980s, dubbed itself the City of Champions, in pride of the coincident glory days of the Oilers and Eskimos. Orkin includes the self-dubbed category cryptically as the "panegyrical"; many other phrasal names are derived from geographical, cultural, or industrial features of the city's region.

Nestled in Orkin's list, completely out of order, is a list of truncated forms. These are fundamentally different beasts: people actually use them in spoken discourse. As I recall, nobody in Tucson ever uses the phrase "The Old Pueblo" except local news anchors (and painfully at that). But people do say things like "I'm going to Philly next week".

Among American toponyms, a fair number are truncated and diminutized: Minneapolis > Minny, Philadelphia > Philly, Indianapolis > Indy, and California > Cally. In same cases, this structure refers only to the inhabitant, as in Zonie or Okie. In others, the truncatum is to the right: Zona and Bama. I'm aware of at least one non-diminutive, Mass for Massachusetts.

Obviously, then, trucated civic nicknames are not restricted to Canadian toponyms. But there might be one unique feature, which Orkin notes:

When the name consists of two or more words, one word is often used, usually preceded by the definite article. This practice is evident in Ontario where Arnprior is familiarly known as The Prior, North Bay as The Bay, Port Credit as The Port or The Credit, and Sault Ste. Marie as The Soo. Similarly Portage la Prairie is abbreviated to Portage and Medicine Hat to The Hat.

Add to that The Peg for Winnipeg. The use of the article combined with a truncation is what seems to be unique here. And these are constructions that are (or were) used in actual speech. The only person I've known to have noticed this as a pattern is my sister, who gleefully extended it to Halifax (The Fax) and even back to Ottawa (The Twa).

Not every truncation gets an article, though:
Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, however, is known as P.A. When the city name consists of only one word, the first syllable may be chosen for the colloquial desgination; thus Gananoque has become Gan, Kapuskasing is known locally as Kap.

Add to that Sask for Saskatchewan. (Aside, it seems that initials are rare in spoken truncation - LA, DC, BC, PA (evidently), and TO, for Toronto).

Anyway, I'm having trouble thinking of American examples of an article + truncation. Except maybe The Vineyard or The Cape - neither seems much different from "the island" or "the coast". I'm also having trouble think of diminutized Canadian truncations, like *Saskie or *Winnie.


At Fri Apr 29, 04:20:00 PM 2005, Blogger Estel said...

Interesting. I never guessed that when I referred to Roberts Creek, B.C. where I used to live as "The Creek" I was using a Canadianism.

At Fri Apr 29, 08:34:00 PM 2005, Blogger John Cowan said...

Here in New York City we have a very old the + truncation, so old its etymology isn't even remembered by most people any more: the Bronx for the Annexed District of the Bronx River.

At Fri Apr 29, 09:49:00 PM 2005, Blogger Bob Kennedy said...

These are both interesting. The Creek seems different from the Cape or the Vineyard, since the latter two refer to actual landmasses. Someone who lives in The Creek doesn't actually live in the creek. (but in contrast, someone who lives on the cape or in the valley or in the foothills etc. We need a semanticist's help!)

The Bronx is a good one too - and I guess the Village offers another New York example. One thing that sets the Bronx off is that the definite article is present in the untruncated phrase.

Regardless, I think this means we can add neighborhoods and boroughs to the taxonomy. Toronto has the Annex, and Ottawa had the Market and the Glebe. (I think all are truncations of larger phrases). If people in New Orleans referred to the French Quarter as the Quarter, this would fit here too.

At Tue May 03, 09:39:00 AM 2005, Blogger Estel said...

"The Creek" is parallel to "The Bay" for "North Bay", which you mention in your post, though. Someone who lives in The Bay doesn't actually live in the bay any more than someone who lives in The Creek lives in the creek.

At Tue May 03, 12:41:00 PM 2005, Blogger Bob Kennedy said...

I agree - I meant to lump The Creek in the same group as The Bay, The Credit, and The Peg, while excluding the Cape and the Vineyard.

At Wed May 04, 11:03:00 PM 2005, Blogger caelestis said...

How about:

(The) San Fernando Valley > The Valley

For Orange County, The Orange Curtain seems to be giving way to The OC.

I lived for some years in Inglewood > The Wood (not sure about this one).

Marina del Rey is often just The Marina (cf. Playa del Rey > Playa).

Seems to be a lot of SoCal. One from NorCal, my favorite: a friend of mine coined, for San Jose, The Joser.

At Thu May 05, 05:11:00 PM 2005, Blogger Bob Kennedy said...

Cool. The Marina, The Wood, and The OC all seem to fit with The Peg and the Creek. The Valley seems more like The Cape, though.

And the Joser is brilliant. Too bad it hasn't stuck!


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