^zhurnaly   -   Random   -   Recent Changes   -   Running Logbook   -   Help   -   RSS

Demonyms

In the 2013-04-29 issue of The New Yorker John McPhee writes about writing, and en passant touches upon a delightful topic: demonyms, words that describe residents of particular locations. McPhee loves them, and in the course of praising extraordinary copy editor Mary Norris observes:

... In 2003, we were closing the piece that retraced the journey made in 1839 by Henry David Thoreau and his brother, John, down the Concord River to the Merrimack and up the Merrimack through and beyond Manchester. In manuscript and in the initial galley proofs, there was a sentence (odd out of context) that said:

     In bed at night for three or four months I'd been listening to Manchester laughing—a chorus of Manchesterians sitting on those steps convulsed by us on the way uphill with our canoe.

Mary Norris wrote on the proof, "Would you like 'Mancunians'?"

It was as if she had handed me a rare gold coin. Five years later, when I happened to be writing about lacrosse in Manchester, England, I worked in the word "Mancunian" three times in one short paragraph. It was the second-best demonym I'd ever heard, almost matching Vallisoletano (a citizen of Valladolid). The planet, of course, is covered with demonyms, and after scouring the world in conversations on this topic with Mary Norris I began a severely selective, highly subjective A-list, extending Mancunian and Vallisoletano through thirty-five others at this writing, including Wulfrunian (Wolverhampton), Novocastrian (Newcastle), Trifuluvian (Trois-Rivières), Leodensian (Leeds), Minneapolitan (Minneapolis), Hartlepudlian (Hartlepool), Liverpudlian (you knew it), Haligonian (Halifax), Varsovian (Warsaw), Providentian (Providence), and Tridentine (Trent).

Mary Norris herself contributes to New Yorker blogs on language and editing issues ([1]). And apparently the word "demonym" is of recent coinage, attributed to Paul Dickson — who turns out to be a local writer whom I've bumped into on occasion in the Wheaton Library basement used-book sale room. Small world!

(cf. "The Writing LIfe — Draft No. 4: Replacing the words in boxes." by John McPhee) - ^z - 2013-04-30

I like this!