I struck out with this one on the THE NEW CRITERION blog
so let’s try NRO
readers. The question is: What do you call the natives of the city or
state named XXX? XXX-ians? XXX-enes? XXX-onians? Or something truly
irregular and eccentric? Anyway, here’s the blog as first posted.
Here’s a thing. I was just browsing in William Ashbrook’s fine book
Donizetti and his Operas. On p.7 I read: “[Francesco] Salari (1751-1823),
a Bergamasc by birth, had studied at Naples with Piccinni…”
That word “Bergamasc” stopped my eye. It plainly means “a native of
Bergamo” (Donizetti’s own home town). How striking that the English
language should have an irregular formation like tha, to identify the
natives of an inconsequential Italian town!
There are a number of these irregulars in Britain: “Liverpudlian” for a
native of Liverpool, “Mancunian” for someone from nearby Manchester,
“Salopian” for the people of Shropshire, and so on. In the U.S.A., though,
the only one I know of is “Cantabrigian,” which I have heard used for a
native of Cambridge, Mass. — obviously borrowed from the corresponding
British usage. (In re which, let’s not forget “Oxonian”!)
Even setting aside these irregular forms, the business of making English
substantives and adjectives to identify people from this or that place is
very convoluted. Why is a native of Paris a Parisian, while a native of
Berlin is a Berliner? (As also, notoriously, is a sticky cream-filled bun.)
Why is a native of Beijing a Beijinger, while a native of Shanghai is a
Shanghainese? Because the first ends in a consonant but the second doesn’t?
Then why is a native of Canton a Cantonese, not a Cantoner? There are deep
mysteries to be plumbed here.
Is there any other language in the world as rich, varied, and mysterious as