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Monday, March 23, 2009

From the Top: Toponyms.

I was looking for a slang dictionary for a patron the other day and was browsing one of my favorite areas -- the 422s and 423s (if you immediately know what those numbers mean, you are either a librarian or a huge nerd — or both) -– and came across A Dictionary of Toponyms by Nigel Viney.

A toponym is a word that gets its name from a place or region. Some of them were familiar and some were pretty surprising. Check it out:

academia – In Academia, outside Athens, Plato founded his Academy.
cantaloupe – The tasty melons take their name from Cantalupo in Sabina, near Rome, where they were first grown in Europe in a papal villa after they were introduced from Armenia.
cayenne pepper – The name comes from the town of Cayenne in French Guiana, where the trees are grown.
epsom salts – A mineral spring was discovered in Ebbisham (later Epsom), England in 1618; starting in 1675, magnesium sulfate was made there, and thus became known as Epsom salt.
limousine – In the old province of Limousine, citizens once wore a particular type of hood. This led to the French word for a “closed carriage,” which led to the word limousine being used to describe the first motor cars with closed bodies.
magenta – My favorite crayon was named for the immediate discovery of the bright red dye after the Battle of Magenta in the Franco-Austrian War of 1859.
paisley – The swirly pattern gets its name from the city in Scotland, where shawls have been made for over 200 years.
pilsener beer – Nope, it’s not German beer after all. It gets its name from the city of Pilsen in the Czech Republic.
spa – This word comes from the mineral spring discovered in Spa, Belgium in the sixteenth century.

I’d love to stay and tell you more interesting toponyms, but I’m putting on my magenta paisley shawl and taking a limo to the spa.

Viney, Nigel. A Dictionary of Toponyms. London: The Library Association, 1986.

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