Rat's Nest
Bloggage, rants, and occasional notes of despair

You say "Tomato", I say "Livorno"

Kevin James of The Goliard Blog wonders (prehaps simply for effect) why so many English place names seem to be totally unrelated to what the locals call that place.

Better than I have written on this, of course.  But the basic reason is that we generally don't give a damn what they call themselves.

Part of the reason for this is that self-names are often self-aggrandizing.  To pick one of James' examples:  Deutschland means "land of the people".  Which makes where I am -- what?  The Land of Chopped Liver?  The French call it Allemagne, which is actually a concession to German egotism -- the name derives from Alamann, "all the men".  "Germany" (like "Greece" as the name for Ellas) comes via Latin from the name of some obscure tribe that the Romans used, by synedoche, to refer to every who jabbered in that language (when the French, those arbiters of good taste, quit referring the England as "L'Angelterre", I'll think about changing).

Part of the reason is also that names change.  "Japan" is actually from a medieval Chinese pronunciation (via Malay) of characters now pronounced er4ben3 (incidentally, "Nippon" is actually a Sinicized form of Nihon, the native pronunciation of those characters.  In the 1930's, the Japanese militarists decided, for some reason, that "Nippon" was the only acceptable pronunciation.  As a reaction, the "Nihon" pronunciation is much more common in modern Japan than the "Nippon" pronunciation, although the latter is not unknown).

Finally, as James suggests, some differences are due to spelling and pronunciation screwups.  "Moscow" may seem a silly transliteration of "Moskva" -- until you realize that the name is actually German, and should be pronounced "Moskov" (the native English name is "twenty miles beyond the edge of the world").

John "Akatsukami" Braue Friday, June 14, 2002