Wordsmith.org: the magic of words


Wordsmith Chat

What's New | Search | Site Map | Contact Us  


Home

Help


A Chat With Paul Dickson

Paul Dickson's picture
Date:Sep 26, 2006
Time:6 pm Pacific (GMT -7)
Topic:Labels for Locals
Duration:One hour

Transcript of the chat follows this introduction.

What to call people from Abilene to Zimbabwe?

Paul Dickson is the author of more than 45 books and several hundred magazine articles. He has written books with one-word titles -- Jokes, Names, Words, Toasts, Slang -- and a number of word-related titles including War Slang, Family Words, The Dickson Baseball Dictionary and The Congress Dictionary. He is currently working on a book entitled "The Dictionary of the Space Age". Most recently published is Labels for Locals and a new and greatly enlarged version of his topical slang dictionary called Slang.

He also writes about baseball and American history. He is a contributing editor to the Washingtonian magazine He currently lives in Garrett Park, Maryland with his wife Nancy who works with him as his first line editor, and financial manager.

Transcript of the chat

Anu Garg
Welcome to the 20th online chat at Wordsmith.Org!

Our guest today is Paul Dickson, author of more than 45 books on words, language, and beyond. He is joining us from Garrett Park, Maryland

His latest book is titled "Labels for Locals: What to Call People from Abilene to Zimbabwe". He will discuss words to describe people from various places.

Welcome, Paul!

Paul Dickson
Thanks, Happy to be here ... there ... everywhere.

Anu Garg
You are welcome to send your question for Paul Dickson. James Cooper sent this question by email: "Is he planning on putting out an updated edition of Word Treasury? Mine is worn out, and I'd love to see a new addition."

Paul Dickson
James, I am trying to get out a new one as fast as I can. Also I am working on a new record setting compilation of words for drunk. I was up to 2,390 in that book ... now shooting for 3,000.

Anu Garg
3,000 words for being drunk! When does that compilation come out?

Paul Dickson
Not sure yet. But one of the latest I collected was "feng-shuied" as in he came out of the party well "feng-shuied."

Anu Garg
Ha! We'll have to wait for that book.

Paul Dickson
Absolutely. Fact is collectors of drunk terms have included Ben Franklin, H. L. Mencken and Ambrose Bierce. It is an old fascination going back to Chaucer.

Anu Garg
You are in good company.

Anu Garg
About today's topic, Paul, why do we have all these different names for people from various places. Why can't we call them "People from X or whatever is the name of the country"? Or why not have the same suffix for all names?

Paul Dickson
Seems that people create their own demonyms--a term for locale names--so if you are from Indiana you are a Hoosier not an Indianan ...or folks from Liverpool call themselves Liverpudlians

Lisa Hernandez - Mexico
How is it decided what term is the official one for people from some place?

Paul Dickson
Great question. Very few are official. Massachusetts passed a law prescribing Bay Stater as the name for that state and Michigan has legislated Michiganian, although there is strong support for Michigander. All the rest are unofficial ... of the people

Lisa Hernandez - Mexico
So is it that these names are democratically chosen, rather than officially?

Paul Dickson
True. They are epitome of descriptive self-naming rather than a name which is imposed by someone else. When a name is imposed it often runs into resistance from the folks who the name has been attached to.

Anu Garg
I guess the term demonym works on two levels then.

Paul Dickson
True. It also works on this level--a third It is a word which I created with the help of John Morse at Merriam-Webster. It is my humble attempt to coin a new one ...an earlier attempt at wordo for word-lover failed.

Anu Garg
Let's hope demonym catches on. What are some of the more interesting names you have come across in your research on demonyms?

Paul Dickson
Dozens ... Dorpian (from the Dutch for village) for natives of Schenectady, NY which is near Albany which is one of several places inhabited by Albanians. I love Glaswegian for a resident of Glasgow.

Anu Garg
Albanians? How about people from Albania? Do the people in the NY state capital share the name with the people from Albania?

Paul Dickson
Absolutely. A friend sent me a sign from a bank in the capital of the Empire State which proclaimed: "Most Albanians bank here."

Anu Garg
Ha! How do you collect these names? Do you send out lots of letters? Do you go and interview people in those places? Or something else?

Paul Dickson
All sorts of means. Most commonly I write to the editor of the local paper--but this does not always work. I grew up in Yonkers, New York, and we had two papers back then...one said Yonkersonian and the other Yonkersite. I also solicit claims from folks who have lived or now live in a particular place.

Tony Tkach - Canada
I live near the city of Moose Jaw (Saskatchewan) -- What would you call a resident of this city?

Paul Dickson
Great question from a Canadian. Moose Javian is the demonym of choice. On the other hand Medicine Hat residents are called Hatters.

Anu Garg
Exonyms, as you know, are names that are used by foreigners to refer to a place or people, instead of the name used by those who live there. For example: Cologne (native term: Koln), Florence (Firenze). Why do we use different names from those that the natives use?

Paul Dickson
I am not sure ... probably the same instinct that causes us to eat French toast and Danish pastries. Seriously, it just sounds better to be adopted into the new language. Laziness too.

Anu Garg
Why are some of the words for nationalities for foreigners more of a slur than others? Dutch comes to mind: Dutch treat, Dutch uncle, etc.

Paul Dickson
Dutch is the most common ...but take a place like Chicago. A Chicago piano is a machine gun. Chicago rub down is a terrible beating--all from that long ago incident on St. Valentine's Day and a guy named Capone.

Anu Garg
So it seems in the case of Chicago it was well-deserved. How about the slurs we hear about some nationalities, for example, Dutch or French? Is there some truth in them?

Paul Dickson
Hard to say. The Dutch slurs appear to come from the great enmity on the part of the British over the naval power of the Dutch. In the 17th century the British and Dutch fought for control of the seas. The British controlled the language and they turned it into a slur--Dutch courage for drunk. French can go both ways--some romantic (kiss), some not.

Lisa Hernandez - Mexico
Maybe the Dutch language has as many slurs with the word "English."

Paul Dickson
Perhaps. Might be worth a new edition of the book. I look into these a lot in the book and they fascinate me because some place names are symbolic--Hollywood, Wall Street, Silicon Valley--and carry their own impact as descriptions of attitudes and style.

Anu Garg
There has been some controversy that the name America wasn't coined after Amerigo Vespucci, as in that case it would have been named something like 'Vespuccia'. Your take?

Paul Dickson
It has a certain sound to it. So many names have been suggested for American including Usonian--a Utopian vision of America. Of course, Americans might not be ready for a name change. Important thing about demonyms is that folks take them very very seriously. Ask a Texan or a Hoosier if you doubt this.

Anu Garg
Native Americans or Indians (or Vespuccians!), what's the best term to use when referring to the native people?

Paul Dickson
Anu, This gets at the heart of the book. Native-American came into play in the 1960s by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and most Indians (according to a survey by the Census Bureau) prefer American Indian and the the Indians in charge of the new Museum of the American Indian in Washington rejected Native-American. I have interviewed Indians who would prefer to be called by their tribal name, American Indian second and Native-American last. Russell Means, the Lakota activist, hates the name.

Joey the P'colian
Any idea why that is, Mr. Dickson?

Tony Tkach - Canada
In Canada, the term of choice is "First Nations"

Paul Dickson
First Nations is a fine term because it comes from those to whom it is addressed. Some--if not most --Indians seem to feel that native American was a term created by non-Indian academics in an attempt to be politically correct. Again this underscores the fact that most folks like to name themselves rather than be named by others. That simple.

Tony Tkach - Canada
Do you know of any groups or locals that defy a label?

Paul Dickson
No. They are even giving them to residents of planets and adjectives to describe them should life ever be discovered there. For instance, when the first probes were made of Venus by NASA in the 1960s the folks in charge shied away from Venereal (too close to disease) and ended up with Cytherian--from the island from which the Venus of mythology emerged.

Anu Garg
And no matter where we live, we are all earthlings.

Anu Garg
One last question before we wrap up.

Joey the P'colian
Why not just "Venusian?" (rhetorical)

Paul Dickson
To be sure--but there are those who prefer terrestrial

Anu Garg
Well, that sounds more like a word to describe a phone line to me. (-:

Paul Dickson
That works--the AP style book says Venusian. Guess we will just have to wait until we meet one of them and ask what they would like to be called

Anu Garg
Thank you, Paul Dickson, for being here today. For more, visit his web site.

Paul Dickson
Thanks to all of you. Paul

Anu Garg
Thanks to all who participated.

Joey the P'colian
Thanks Misters Garg and Dickson. :-)

Anu Garg
Our next Wordsmith Chat guest will be Anatoly Liberman, linguistics professor and author of "Word Origins and How We Know Them: Etymology for Everyone". This event will take place on Oct 29, 2006, 7 PM Pacific (GMT -8). See you then!


Chat Events:  

Schedule  

Chat Transcripts:  

Barbara Wallraff  
Atlantic Monthly  

Joseph Pickett  
American Heritage  
Dictionary  
`
Sreenath Sreenivasan  
Columbia University  

Lisa Simeone  
National Public Radio  

David Crystal  
Encyclopedia of English  

Steven Pinker  
Brain & Language  

Wendalyn Nichols  
Random House  

Robert & Jean H.  
Dante's Inferno  

Joseph Bruchac  
Poet  

John Simpson  
Oxford English Dictionary  

Subscriber Services
Awards | Stats | Links | Privacy Policy
Contribute | Advertise

© 2014 Wordsmith