Ask Language Log: Adjectives from country names?

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Jak King writes:

Are there rules in English for making adjectives from countries, or are the assignments random?  I have found a number of standard adjectival endings (-ese, -(i)an, -ish, -i, -er). There are also some singularities (French, Greek, Monegasque) and some where the adjectival form is the same as the country name (Hong Kong, New Zealand).

How is this worked out, or who decides?

Those are excellent questions.

The answer to your last question, "Who decides?", is "no one". Or better, "everyone". Usage generally converges on a single answer in each case.

How is this worked out? Well, no one really knows, but one simple theory is presented here (with some additional background here). The basic idea is that if the members of a community start with a random distribution of distinct beliefs, and exhibit these beliefs in their behavior, and learn from ("accommodate to") one another by adjusting their beliefs in the direction of their experience, then the community converges to a shared state. (This is true as long as "belief" is viewed as a probability distribution over categorically-distinct alternatives.)

In any case, it's clear that language, like most other aspects of culture, is what Friedrich Hayek called a "grown" or "endogenous" or "spontaneous" order, rather than a "made" or "exogenous" or "artificial" order.

As for the specific question of adjectival forms of place names in English, there's some discussion in "The evolutionary psychology of irregular morphology", 4/10/2008.

And if you want more, there's "The theology of phonology", 1/2/2004; "All your base are belong to which lexical category?", 5/15/2004;  "Who let the 'n' in?", 1/22/2006; "Chinian, not Chinese?", 1/26/2006 "'Democrat majority': Offensive but not ungrammatical", 1/31/2007;  "More political morphology: Democrats, Great British, and Geese", 2/19/2007; "A map of adjectival forms of place names", 4/11/2008.


  1. Kylopod said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 8:43 am

    I remember a piece by LL contributor Geoffrey Nunberg that commented specifically on the -i ending that is exclusive, but by no means universal, to nationalities around the Middle East (e.g. Israeli, Iraqi, Saudi, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, etc.), but he admitted that most other nationality-endings seem arbitrary. The essay appeared in his book The Way We Talk Now, taken (I think) from his radio program. Did he ever write about this topic on LL?

    GN: Boy, I'm impressed you remembered. The piece was called "A Suffix in the Sand." It ran on "Fresh Air" in 1991, around the time of the first Gulf War. It's accessible at the Amazon entry for The Way We Talk Now, here. Some snips:

    We use a number of suffixes to form adjectives from the names of places, but none of the others is restricted to a particular area of the world. So we say Japanese, Sudanese, and Portuguese; Irish, Polish, and Turkish; and so on. But the suffix i is used only for nations and regions that lie in the territory stretching from the Bible lands in the west to India in the east….

    After discussing various exceptions (e.g., the root has to end in a consonant) and the origins and development of the suffix (which I believe is peculiar to English in this use), I concluded:

    …The suffix i draws its own kind of line in the sand. It circumscribes the region that Europeans used to refer to as the Orient, before that term was transferred to the Far East. As critics like Edward Said have pointed out, though, the Orient was a European invention. It has been imagined and reimagined in a line that runs from Flaubert and Kipling and Gérôme and Delacroix down to Lawrence of Arabia and Raiders of the Lost Ark. The Orient has been portrayed in varied and sometimes contradictory ways: it is despotic and devious, it is contemplative and mystical, it is languid and sensual, it is fanatical and puritanical. But it is always the Orient, a single place that blurs vast differences in culture, history and languages. In its own small way, the suffix i contributes to the illusion. It doesn't just make Middle Easterners exotic; it makes them all exotic in the same dusky way.

  2. Picky said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 9:51 am

    I'm not sure French is a singularity – Dutch, Scotch. And these may be the same inflection as in Scottish, English, Spanish, Welsh, Swedish, Finnish, etc etc?

  3. James Wimberley said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 10:26 am

    There is some pressure towards standard forms instead of irregular ones. When Bosnia and Kosovo were in the news, Serbian was more common than the traditional Serb. African ethnicities seem immune: Hutu. Tutsi, Nuer, Zulu, Xhosa, !Kung.
    French has some pleasantly exotic formations: Saint-Dié -> déodatien; Pont-à-Mousson -> moussipontin. These don't look like something that emerged from a Walrasian communal tâtonnement, more "some too-clever guy with a big dictionary".

  4. Mr Punch said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 10:58 am

    Re Serb/Serbian: I sort of assumed that the people were Serbs, and then their (or "their") country was called Serbia; "Serbians" identifies people by nationality rather than ethnicity. The supposed tendency towards standard forms does not appear to extent to Kosovars.

  5. Chris said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 11:24 am

    I think a good test cases here are how we refer to groups for which we have no clear adjectival precedent like people from small towns. Are people from Herndon, Virginia Herndonites? Herndoners? Herndones?

    This is like a wug test, right? Give people a set of these town names and ask them to give adjectival forms and see what defaults arise.

  6. Faith said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 12:07 pm

    I have trouble knowing when I'm supposed to say Scotch, Scots, or Scottish, except in set phrases (Scotch eggs, Scotch whiskey), and I vacillate even on the name of the language.

  7. Rachael said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 12:19 pm

    James Wimberley: Those exotic French formations remind me of English town adjectives such as "Liverpudlian" and "Mancunian".

  8. Picky said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 12:43 pm

    Faith: that's because the sensibilities of the Scotch have changed – maybe are still changing.

  9. James D said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 12:44 pm

    At least with Scotch/Scots/Scottish, there is some obvious semantic difference: Scotch of bonnets (and their eponymous peppers), eggs, marmalade, tape, and whisky, and virtually nothing else unless you're being pejorative; Scots of law, people, language, and in some historical and military contexts; and Scottish for everything else. The worst you can do by saying "Scottish" is to sound slightly cumbersome, whilst "Scots" if used indiscriminately can start to endow inanimate objects with the gift of speech and "Scotch" is best avoided if at all in doubt.

    The Scots aren't alone in this. You would get some very funny looks if you used the words "Grecian" and "Israelite" outside certain specific contexts.

    There are others that are less than clear: Argentine or Argentinian? Nepalese or Nepali? Afghan or Afghani? Kyrgyz or Kyrgyzstani? I would tend to use the former for each of these (at least as adjectives), but the latter forms certainly occur frequently too.

  10. Debbie said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 12:45 pm

    @James, @Mr. Punch, If Serbs are serbians from Serbia and Canucks are Canadians from Canada, what do we call Americans from America? Is finding a term here more difficult because America is also a Continent? The only terms I can think of for Americans seem either derogatory or related to time period, geographic location, or mentality

  11. groki said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 12:54 pm

    And if you want more

    at some point, Mark, due to LL's extensive archive (for which much thanks: hours of fun!), it seems that current LL postings will end up as nothing but pointers to earlier articles, like the jokes-by-number-in-prison gag.

  12. Kyle Gorman said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 1:08 pm


    do you have any electronic reference to your work on network models of speech communities negotiating pronunciation of lexical items? Forgive me if my reference to it is somewhat imprecise, since I have heard it referred to around Penn (perhaps in COGS 502?), but I don't believe that I've read the original work. Thanks!

  13. mfahie said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 1:23 pm

    Interesting question by Debbie, and I had a few initial responses, and am interested to see if others respond as well. As a Canadian, I don't really like "canuck", and very few, if any, Canadians refer to ourselves as canucks. It has pejorative connotations (in particular, "crazy canuck").

    I think the reason for the strangeness with Serb/Serbian is that the group of people who identify as the ethnic group Serb are not the only natives of Serbia, and also have not had a country named after them for very long.

    Canadians tend to refer to ourselves as simply Canadians, with the exception of French-Canadians, which are an interesting case. Native english Canadians tend to call all french Canadians "French-Canadians", whereas french Canadians from Quebec tend to avoid the word Canada, and call themselves Quebecois. And many french Canadians from the East refer to themselves as Acadien.
    Americans are much more likely to refer to themselves as something-american: italian-, irish-, african-, asian-, etc.

    One other interesting point (to me): around the world, it is mostly only an american who would say "Americans are americans from America". Much of the rest of the world calls the USA "the US", "the States", "the United States" or similar. So I would have said: "Americans are americans from the US."

  14. Picky said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 1:38 pm

    Ooohh I don't know about your last point, mfahie. In the UK we'd say America quite frequency for the US. Splash head in the Independent today: 'America did some bad things but they didn't tell us' (quoting Labour leadership contender David Miliband.

  15. Faith said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 1:41 pm

    @mfahie — and don't forget the name of my local hockey team, which around playoff time always (in my house, anyway) turns into "the Canuckleheads"

  16. Angela said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 1:46 pm

    Citizens of Burkina Faso are known as Burkinabè, not Burkinese or Burkinish or Fasoans. This was chosen by Thomas Sankara when he renamed the country post-revolution in 1984, as a nod to the third most common native language, Fulfulde (Dioula and Mòoré are both used in the name Burkina Faso). In this case there is definitely a traceable decision.

  17. mfahie said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 1:47 pm

    Oops. That must be my Canadian narcissism. Let me amend that to 'Canadians don't call the country America'.

    In the meanwhile, I came up with a nice parallel example.
    Ute is an native american ethnic group that comes from, but is not limited to, Utah.
    Utahn (or Utahan depending on your source) means a person from Utah.

    So some Utes are Utahns from Utah. But not all Utes are Utahn, nor are all Utahns Utes.

    Just like some Serbs are Serbians from Serbia. Not all Serbians are Serbs, and if you're strict about the word Serbian only meaning "from Serbia", not all Serbs are Serbians.

  18. mfahie said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 1:49 pm

    Proper name "Vancouver Canucks" is fine, or course, as is the original "crazy cancuks" (the skiers), which is said with warmth. Generally in my experience, "canuck" is not used with particular warmth.

  19. Craig said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 1:49 pm

    As a native of one of the myriad towns ending in "-ton", I assume that other "-ton" residents are "-tonians", e.g. "Bostonians", "Washingtonians".

    Similarly, most "-ia" cities and countries seem to have "-ian" residents.

  20. Tim Friese said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 1:54 pm

    @Kylopod:Those Middle Eastern -i formations are generally straight borrowings from Arabic and Hebrew, where it is the usual way to derive a noun or adjective with the meaning "relating to a noun" (e.g Standard Arabic yawmiyy 'daily' < yawm 'day').

    I don't know if Persian, the Turkic languages, and the Northern Indian languages had this indigenously or if they borrowed it from Arabic.

    Another map that differs slightly from the one at "A map of adjectival forms of place names" :

  21. Lee Morgan said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 2:00 pm

    @Faith: Perhaps the most confusing aspects of this phenomenon is that "Scotch Ale" and "Scottish Ale" refer to different types of beer.

  22. John Cowan said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 2:00 pm

    Note that Scotch tape is an American product originally, and was so named because you didn't have to use very much of it.

  23. George said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 2:17 pm

    @Klyopod: "I remember a piece by LL contributor Geoffrey Nunberg that commented specifically on the -i ending that is exclusive, but by no means universal, to nationalities around the Middle East . . ."

    This may be because that is what they call themselves. The Semitic morphemes for nationality are /-i/masc., /-ia/ fem. However, there are a number of exceptions (in English): Egyptian, Lebanese, Libyan, Moroccan, Syrian, etc.

  24. groki said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 2:18 pm

    John Cowan: Scotch tape

    like "Dutch oven" for the cooking pot that's more economical to cook in than a full oven?

    and speaking of Dutch: I wonder why–following the example of Icelandic–the adjective isn't Hollandic, or Netherlandic?

  25. George said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 2:38 pm

    Where we have a noun/adjective alternative with different forms (like Swede/Swedish, Scot/Scottish, Jew/Jewish, Serb/Serbian), I feel like the suffixed adjective is a little more polite even though it can also be used for inanimates. 'John is Scottish' seems more polite than 'John is a Scot.'

    Also, the noun form feels a little more more masculine. 'John is a Serb' seems more natural than 'Mary is a Serb.'

  26. Dan Lufkin said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 2:43 pm

    I can understand why the high-school football team of Marfa, Texas discourages use of the cheer "Go, you Marfadites!."

  27. Angus Grieve-Smith said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 2:55 pm

    I've heard Mr. Punch's theory about ethnicity vs. nationality in some places, for example Azeri vs. Azerbaijani. I generally prefer the shorter terms: it bothers me when someone says "Argentinian," when "Argentine" is well-established.

    My dad once met a woman from Norfolk, Virginia, and asked her if people from there were called Norfolkers. She was not amused; apparently the term of choice is "Norfolkians."

  28. [links] Link salad wakes up, still on the far side of the world | said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 3:27 pm

    […] Adjectives from country names? — Another fun post from Language Log. Be sure to check out the comments. […]

  29. Xmun said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 3:36 pm

    There are two adjectival forms for New Zealand: "New Zealand" and (guess what, ending in -i): Kiwi.

  30. Alan Gunn said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 3:54 pm

    On "Scotch" and "Scots": John Kenneth Galbraith once wrote a book called "The Scotch," about Canadians of Scottish descent (like Galbraith himself, I believe), who call themselves "Scotch" rather than "Scots." Just an example of a difference between Canadian English and other versions, I suppose, but an interesting wrinkle.

  31. Rodger C said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 4:27 pm

    @mfahie: "the group of people who identify as the ethnic group Serb … have not had a country named after them for very long": There was a Serbia from 1804 to 1918 and for several centuries before 1521.

    @Tim Friese: The Farsi -i comes from -ik. I think the others are borrowed.

    On "Scotch" and "Scots": As someone who writes about Americans of Irish Protestant descent, usually called "Scotch-Irish" in the US, I've noticed a recent tendency to substitute "Scots-Irish." This peeves me, as the term is of American origin and, afaik, never contained the word "Scots" in historical usage.

  32. Kylopod said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 4:36 pm

    @Tim Friese

    Yes, I realize the -i comes from Arabic and Hebrew, but the thing is, none of the other standard nationality-suffixes in English (-ese, -ish, -ian) are borrowed from languages spoken in the countries they're applied to.

    GN: Nor does any other language use this suffix to form Middle Eastern nationality terms: cf Fr. irakien, It. iracheno, Ger. Iraker, etc.:

  33. AJD said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 4:50 pm

    Kylopod: "-ian" is.

  34. mollymooly said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 5:35 pm

    A Frenchman from Châteauneuf can be a
    Châteauneuvien, or
    depending on which Châteauneuf it is.

  35. Ralph Hickok said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 5:56 pm

    I had a Scots friend, the great Celtic fiddler Johnny Cunningham. Whenever anyone referred to him as Scotch, he responded, "The only Scotch in me is what I put there."

  36. J.W. Brewer said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 6:09 pm

    To the extent there are conventional rules distinguishing Scots/Scotch/Scottish by which adjective goes w/ which sort of noun, my sense is they were developed and formalized in the 19th C. by thin-skinned Scots/Scotch/Scottish nationalists, not least so they could take elaborate offense when outsiders got the distinctions wrong. At the time most of the Scotch-Irish emigrated to the United States, the distinctions and associated sensitivities had not yet arisen, so I view the alternative "Scots-Irish" (as a name for a historic U.S. ethnicity) as something of a dubious hypercorrection or anachronism.

  37. Kylopod said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 6:33 pm


    Really? This suggests -ian was borrowed in the Middle English period from Latin. No country at the time spoke Latin, and the suffix has been applied to many countries that were never anywhere near the Roman Empire (e.g. Iranian, Argentinian, Bahamian, Mongolian, etc.). The distinctive feature of the -i ending, which sparked Nunberg's article quoted above, is that it came directly from languages spoken in the region it has been exclusively applied to.

  38. Debbie said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 7:20 pm

    @Kylopod, do any of these suffixes denote meaning? I've been told that 'ian' means follower as in Christian is supposed to be a follower of Christ. What about ese, ish….

  39. majolo said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 7:23 pm

    @John Cowan: The Scotch tape story I've heard (and Wikipedia and 3M seem to agree) is that at one point in the development the tape had adhesive only on the edges, to save production costs.

  40. Philip Spaelti said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 7:46 pm

    The idea that French, Dutch, and Greek are "exotic" formations has things backwards. In such truly old cases the adjectives are primary (older?) than the country names. It is only in our modern conception that the countries are pre-exisiting and that we form adjectives from them.

    [(myl) French is older than the country name, but not older than the noun Frank from which it's derived via addition of the adjectival ending -ish, according to the OED. Dutch was borrowed as such from German (or from the Low German that became called "Dutch"), and Greek was borrowed into OE (and other Germanic languages) from Latin Graecus.

    Anyhow, the point is not the etymology, but the fact that for current English speakers, the relationship among the place name(s) as nouns, place names as adjectives, ethnic names, language names, etc., is opaque or sui generis in these cases.]

  41. Rodger C said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 9:20 pm

    This is all reminding me of how peevy St. Ambrose told St. Augustine that "Donatistae" was wrong for a group of heretics because it was a Latin-Greek hybrid; it should be "Donatiani." But "Donatists" it is today.

    @J. W. Brewer: Thanks. Just what I thought.

  42. empty said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 9:31 pm

    Scotch tape […] was so named because you didn't have to use very much of it.

    Maybe not exactly that. Wikipedia says:

    Use of the term "Scotch" in the name has a pejorative origin. To cut costs 3M applied the adhesive only to the edges of the tape.

  43. empty said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 9:32 pm

    (sorry, already been said)

  44. John Cowan said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 10:51 pm

    Alan Gunn: It's an archaism: Boswell, a Scot of the Scots, doesn't hesitate to call himself and his countrymen Scotchmen.

    Rodger C., J.W. Brewer: Scots-Irish is a conscious compromise between Scotch-Irish, the New World form, and Ulster Scots, the Old World one.

    People from Independence, Missouri, don't seem to have a toponym; even -ite, the usual fallback, simply doesn't work.

    I'm rather fond of Massachusettensian.

  45. Alexei said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 10:58 pm

    Speaking of pejorative ways of referring to certain ethnicities: how exactly did the terms "Russki" and "Polak" – the Russian word for "Russian" and the Polish word for "Pole", respectively – become mildly derogatory terms in English? And are there other words that follow the same pattern?

  46. Kylopod said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 11:32 pm


    It depends on which suffix: -ian and -ish have several meanings other than creating adjectival place names, but -ese and -i seem to be reserved for that purpose in English. Of the last two, -ese is heavily associated with Asia (Vietnamese, Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese, etc.), but it's used elsewhere (Sudanese, Portuguese, Maltese, etc.), and it certainly didn't come from an Asian language. In contrast, -i stands alone among these suffixes. It not only is applied exclusively to countries in (or at least near) the Middle East and nowhere else, it actually came from Middle Eastern languages.

    I do get the sense, however, that -ese has exotic connotations, and we tend to attach it to things when we want to suggest extreme foreignness, even if we're only kidding. That's how we wind up with semi-facetious terms like legalese, bureaucratese, headlinese, etc. But this is only when identifying quasi-languages. Other suffixes may be used for the place-adjectives. That's why residents of Baltimore are called Baltimoreans (or Baltimorons), but the dialect is called Baltimorese (or Bawlmorese). Logically, the dialect should also be called Baltimorean, but the point is to convey the idea (with a good dose of hyperbole) that the dialect is as foreign as Chinese. How -ese came to have this connotation, I don't know.

    I'm curious about whether -ese is used for any American place-adjectives, as opposed to dialects.

  47. Brandon said,

    August 29, 2010 @ 11:38 pm

    -ese is conditioned partly by a preceding nasal and perhaps [+ asian]:
    China – chinese
    Siam – siamese
    Burma – burmese
    Vietnam – vietnamese

    [(myl) Nice candidate sub-regularity. But being an adjective derived from a place name or ethnic name ending in [nm](a) is not a necessary (Faroese, Portuguese, Maltese, Nepalese, Yapese) or a sufficient (Panamanian, Iranian, Burman, Ghanaian) condition.]

  48. Jon said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 3:01 am

    When you come across an indignant Scotsman/Scotchman, claiming that he is Scots, and that "Scotch" refers only to the drink, refer him to Rabbie Burns.

    Burns wrote a poem, "On A Scotch Bard, Gone To The West Indies". Since Burns has the status of a secular saint, this spikes their guns.

  49. rone said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 3:44 am

    I'm a little surprised that nobody has used the term 'demonym' or 'gentilic'.

  50. Xmun said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 6:54 am

    @Rodger C
    I remember that C. P. Scott, the famous editor of the Manchester Guardian, once said, or rather is said to have said: "Television? The word is half Latin and half Greek. No good can come of it." I didn't until now know that St. Ambrose in the fourth century had made the same complaint about the word formation of "Donatist". A nice story: thank you.

  51. Nicholas Waller said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 8:09 am

    Batswana for the people of Botswana must be an unusual form.

  52. Bill Walderman said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 8:25 am

    "-ese is heavily associated with Asia (Vietnamese, Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese, etc.), but it's used elsewhere (Sudanese, Portuguese, Maltese, etc.),"

    -ese is used to derive adjectives from many Italian toponyms: Piedmontese, Milanese, Genoese. -ese was apparently imported into English from Italian. The Latin suffix was -ensis but that was reduced to -ese in Italian.

  53. Jongseong Park said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 8:28 am

    Batswana for the people of Botswana must be an unusual form.

    So is Motswana as the singular form.

    It's rare in English usage for the Bantu prefixes to be used for the inhabitants of a country. We don't talk about the Baganda instead of Ugandans or Abanyarwanda/Banyarwanda instead of Rwandans unless we mean the ethnic group in particular. It's therefore surprising to see Motswana/Batswana used for any inhabitant of Botswana regardless of ethnicity, and I wonder how widespread this practice actually is.

  54. George said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 8:37 am

    Nicholas: I would guess that /bat-/ and /bot-/ are different morphemes in the setswana (set-swana?) language. Maybe a Bantuist will weigh in and explain this.

  55. Jongseong Park said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 9:17 am

    George, Bantu nouns take different prefixes according to classes, which are like a generalized version of genders in European languages. Tswana would be the base form, and I would guess that mo- and ba- are the class 1 and class 2 prefixes (used for people) corresponding to Swahili m- and wa. Similarly, se- I would guess is the class 7 prefix (used for languages) corresponding to Swahili ki-. The bo- as in Botswana I'm not sure about.

  56. Lazar said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 9:26 am

    Alexei: A similar word is "Yid", the Yiddish word for "Jew", which has a derogatory connotation in English.

  57. Roger Lustig said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 9:32 am

    @Rachael & Mollymooly: my mother always insisted she was not Mancunian by upbringing, but rather Mancastrian.

  58. Rodger C said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 9:52 am

    @John Cowan: Aha. Well then.

    I'm surprised no one has mentioned professional Sino-Tibetanists' practice of using "-ish" for any individual language, including Burmish and Tibetish, with other suffixes systematically applied to each ascending level of relationship.

  59. Rodger C said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 9:55 am

    @Roger Lustig: Dr. John Dee, unhappy in his last job as warden of the College of Manchester, once headed a letter "ex labyrintho Mancestriano."

  60. Coby Lubliner said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 9:57 am

    GN: Nor does any other language use this suffix to form Middle Eastern nationality terms: cf Fr. irakien, It. iracheno, Ger. Iraker, etc.:

    Actually, in Spanish the suffix is even more common than in English. Not only iraquí and paquistaní, but also marroquí, iraní, etc.

    In Catalan the suffix is not limited to "exotic" places, since it is the cognate of the Latin -inus, and so we find barceloní for a Barcelonan, while El Barcelonés is the name of the county-like district (comarca) that includes Barcelona.

  61. Phil Jennings said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 10:06 am

    Minneapolis -> Minneapolitan, I can attest. I don't know about Indianapolis. Doesn't Indianapolitan seem too much? All those i's and a's.

  62. John Walden said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 10:18 am

    To my half-educated way of thinking the -ishes are mostly the adjectives or languages of the tribes or people who live in the -lands (or -mark) named after the said tribes or people. You then need to explain away Sweden. I find, rather handily for me, that it used to be Sweoland and Sweden was an -en plural variation of Swedes.

    Zealand, Iceland and Greenland presumably don't work the same way, presumably because sea, ice and green are descriptions of the places. The same goes for The Netherlands and Holland, which apparently means land of woods. Why Spanish is so escapes me. And Swiss 'should' be Swish or Switzish. But I'm not in charge.

    Of course this refuses to be any kind of rule, except perhaps a rather half-assed one for a person with some but not much knowledge of etymology and North European geography. Even if true, it doesn't work outside N. Europe: Thailand and the now slightly colonial sounding places in Africa like Nyasaland and Swaziland don't use -ish.

  63. Debbie said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 10:34 am

    @Lazar, @Alexei, What about Yankie? It was once a derogatory term applied to Americans which they adopted. What connotation does it have now?

  64. Jean-Pierre Metereau said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 10:35 am

    When I went to Chad with the Peace Corps in 1973, the capital was in the process of changing its name, so my passport has both names on it,
    Fort Lamy and N'djamena. The inhabitants went from Lamyfortains to N'djamenois.

  65. Kylopod said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 10:40 am


    "Yid" continues to be a neutral term when used among Jews, especially Orthodox Jews. (One clue of when it's not derogatory is when the plural is yidden rather than yids.)

  66. Jongseong Park said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 10:44 am

    John Walden, -(i)sh is a Germanic suffix, coming from -isc in Old English and corresponding to forms like -(i)sch in German and -(i)sk in Scandinavian languages. The -ch in French is a variation. My impression is that this suffix seems to apply mostly to cultures that the English would have been aware of for a long time, as in since Anglo-Saxon times. Hence Scottish, Irish, Welsh, Spanish, Jewish, Frankish…

    Swiss must have come into English through French. The regular formation using -ish, I think, would have been Switzerish.

  67. George said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 11:11 am

    Jongseong: Thanks for the clarification.

    Apparently the distinction between the people and the country are /bo-/ and /ba/. Would these be Bantu classifiers?

  68. Alan Gunn said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 11:14 am

    Debbie: I don't think there are people who call themselves "Yankees" (or "Yanks"). It's always applied by Americans to other Americans who live farther north or sometimes northeast of them, and by foreigners to all of us.

    It's about time someone mentioned that people from Indiana are "Hoosiers"; no one knows why. Oddly, in St. Louis, "Hoosier" means something like "Ignorant rustic clod," so it plainly has nothing to do with Indiana.

  69. Jason L. said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 11:26 am

    "Wug" places with a stressed penult and unstressed ultima ending in -o or -a seem to require replacing the -o or -a with -an, for me at least. People from Wugammo are undoubtedly Wugammans; their neighbors in Wugga are likewise Wuggans. And, of course, this means that while men are from Mars and women from Venus, vegans are from Vega. This bars the weird epenthetic cases, however, like Toronto -> Torontonian and Orlando -> Orlandonian (wonder if these have anything to do with the epenthetic "n" in Shanghainese?)

    A stressed antepenult changes things completely: Greensboro -> Greensboroan or Greensboroite sounds intuitively best (Google seems to prefer the latter); Idaho -> Idahoan; Canada -> Canadian.

  70. Jason L. said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 11:30 am

    Numerous sources on the internet (probably all copied from the same Wikipedia article) say that E.B. White wrote that

    To foreigners, a Yankee is an American.
    To Americans, a Yankee is a Northerner.
    To Northerners, a Yankee is an Easterner.
    To Easterners, a Yankee is a New Englander.
    To New Englanders, a Yankee is a Vermonter.
    And in Vermont, a Yankee is somebody who eats pie for breakfast.

  71. Mark F. said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 11:41 am

    Alexei — I think it's a general rule that a noun for a member of a group gets its pejorative connotations simply by being used a lot by hostile people. There was a period of time when there was a lot of Polish immigration to the US, and the people among whom these Poles settled must have picked up the term for them from the Poles themselves, perhaps not knowing that there was already an older English term "Pole". But these new neighbors of the immigrant Poles would be exactly the people who would be most hostile.

    That may not be exactly the right story, but I don't think there's anything inherent in the slanginess, shortness, or etymological origin of a word that makes it derogatory, it just comes from the attitude that is most typically expressed when that word is being used. The same applies to "Yid", which was mentioned in a later comment.

  72. Jongseong Park said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 11:51 am

    George, I did some digging, and according to this article it seems the Tswana locative prefix bo- is a reflex of the Bantu noun class 17 (*ku-). Interesting, because in Swahili country names would be of class 11 (u-) as in Uganda or class 9 if there is no prefix.

  73. Boris said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 12:55 pm

    I live in Morristown, NJ and I never heard an adjective form myself, but this is from Google:
    Morristonian: 87 results
    Morristowner: 47 results
    Morristownian: 12 results (5 of them for Morristown, Tennessee)
    Morristownite: 1 result (the person wonders if it should be Morristownian instead. Note that Morristonite is found as a misspelling of Morrisonite)

    Morristowni returns 44 results, but almost all of them are OCR errors for Morristown followed by a comma. The rest appear to be general errors for Morristown or "Morristowni s" for "Morristown is".

    All of these combined are a very small fraction of "of morristown" (521 results) and "from morristown" (473 results)

  74. Fiona Hanington said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 1:07 pm

    My favorite, non-intuitive formation is "Haligonians" for residents of Halifax, NS. (I don't believe that this term is used for residents of Halifax in the UK.)

  75. Mary Bull said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 1:29 pm

    When I began to participate in mailing lists and forums that included European pen-pals, I frequently got responses ranging from hostile to humorous if I referred to my country as America or myself or things pertaining to my country as American. So I began to write, "U.S.-America" or "U.S.-American." But face to face, the most natural-feeling thing to call myself is "American." With apologies to you Canadians. And to all the many south-of-the border Latin-Americans and Brazilians.

    As has been well clarified in comments by others above, I would never, never call myself a Yankee. I'm a Texan and a Southerner now residing in Tennessee and claiming to be a Tennessean (but not the newspaper). :)

  76. Mary Bull said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 1:32 pm

    Oh, and a Nashvillian.

  77. HW said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 1:40 pm

    I've always wondered about collective nouns. We all know that you have a murder of crows or a parliament of owls, but where the hell did these come from?

    For nationalities I can imagine a profusion of obvious nonstandard forms (Englanders, Englandites) getting whittled down to a single one (English) but who was the one who decided that crows form murders instead of flocks and persuaded everyone else to accept that as a standard form?

  78. George said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 2:29 pm

    Jongseong: Thanks again for the clarification and the effort.

    Mary, Jason, Alan: I can assure you that those of us born and raised in the South are not Yankees. To my grandmother from South Carolina, 'damn' was an obligatory prefix to 'Yankee.'

  79. Faldone said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 3:03 pm

    There was, however, in Columbus Georgia a minor league baseball team, a farm club of the American League team from New York City. They were known as the Confederate Yankees.

  80. George said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 3:17 pm

    Confederate Yankee? This sounds like either an oxymoron or some kind of traitor.

  81. Anonymous said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 3:40 pm

    re serb/serbian, i've similar ethnicity/citizenship (i decline to use "nationality" here on the grounds that it may confuse the issue) distinctions elsewhere. in the case of malaysia, it's particularly acute, to the point that "malaysia for malaysians" was a pro-integration slogan emphasizing that the overseas-Chinese population was just as malaysian as the malays.

  82. Richard said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 4:19 pm

    I blame the Portuguese and Italian Jesuits for the proliferative use of -ese to describe various East Asians in English. They were the first Westerners since the Middle Ages to set foot in China (the Portuguese were allowed to stay in Macau way back in the 1550's), and the Portuguese were also the first Westerners to set foot in Japan. No doubt English speakers got use to referring to the inhabitants of China and Japan as "Chines/Chinese" and "Japanes/Japanese" and got the bright idea of attaching -ese to the end of most East Asians they came across.

  83. Rodger C said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 4:33 pm

    @John Cowan: On consideration, I'm puzzled by your statement, since "Scots" in "Ulster Scots" is a plural. If this conflation was conscious, its logic still leaves something to be desired. The Ulster Scots language is called Ullans.

  84. Rodger C said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 4:35 pm

    *is of course called Ullans.

  85. Sawney said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 4:53 pm

    @Rodger C:
    Scots can be singular or plural and Ullans, of course, is a neologism.

  86. Cameron said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 5:35 pm

    I have a friend, originally from South Carolina, who has a line she uses to get a rise out of people from Virginia. She asks innocently, playing the Southern Belle and exaggerating her accent a bit, "where I come from, do you know what we call people from Virginia?". And when the Virginian claims curious ignorance, she says "We call 'em Yankees".

    Sputtering rage is the typical response.

  87. Rodger C said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 6:35 pm

    @Sawney: Thank you, I'd suspected "Ullans" of being a neologism. But my point was that I've never seen "Scots" as a singular noun. If "a Scots" has been sighted, this of course puts a different light on the matter. I've found none in the first five pages of Google hits. (I did find several references to "a Scots pine," which looks as odd to me as "Scots-Irish.")

  88. Debbie said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 7:02 pm

    Unless I'm referring to a member of a specific New York baseball team, I consider Yankee to be derogatory. Canadians in part accentuate the differences between themselves and Americans in defining themselves, and yet, I find it odd to be considered a foreigner or to find Molson Canadian in the exports section of the grocery store…but I digress!

  89. John Cowan said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 7:15 pm

    "Ulster Scots" can be a plural noun phrase or an adjective phrase unmarked for number. And yes, "Scots pine" is very strange.

    Sometimes people take derogations to themselves. When I went into my local Jewish bakery some years back and asked for a loaf of challah [xɑlə] sliced, the baker explained to me that it's traditional to tear it for Shabbes dinner. I airily replied, "Oh, I'm a goy, so it doesn't matter."

    He was nonplussed, but he still seems to like me.

  90. Richard said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 7:27 pm


    Where are you from? I grew up in the Midwest, have lived in SF and the East Coast, and don't think people in any of those locales would take offense at being called a Yankee (though other than maybe the East Coasters, none of them would consider it appropriate). So even though I (and virtually everyone else I've met) would not consider ourselves "Yankees", no one I know in the North think that term is derogatory. At most, being called a "damn Yankee" would elict a chuckle from us.

  91. Kylopod said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 8:26 pm

    @John Cowan

    "Goy" isn't inherently derogatory.

  92. Yuanxi said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 8:30 pm

    I guess this is the now-or-never time to retell one of my favorite stories about the art historian and cultural mediator Okakura Kakuzô (Tenshin). Okakura was walking down the street in New York one day around 1910, and somebody came up and said, "What kind of a -nese are you? A Chinese, a Japanese, or a Taiwanese?" Okakura responded instantly, "What kind of a -key are you? A donkey, a monkey, or a Yankee?"
    Hats off.

  93. Yuanxi said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 8:39 pm

    But seriously folks: the variety of suffixes probably has less to do with the identity of the people described and more to do with how news about them filtered to English-speakers. Compare the equivalent terms in French, German, Dutch, Latin, Hindi and so forth: a source language is a migration path for words. At one point it was normal to refer to the inhabitants of Switzerland as "Switzers." Somehow the French channel of influence predominated afterward and they became Swiss. I suspect the -i termination comes to us through Persian or Hindustani, the accessory administrative languages of the British Empire and thus the channel through which Londoners and Mancunians would have learned about their Afghani, Parsi, and other coevals. As someone observed above, Portuguese transmission (many early travel reports) accounts for many of the -ese terms, and others could have been fashioned by analogy.
    Weston La Barre held that the inhabitants of the USA should be "usans." In some dialects, that's indeed what they call us'ns.

  94. Debbie said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 10:01 pm

    @Richard, I'm from Ontario Canada and don't know anyone who would use the term Yankee to refer to an American. I just finished reading Winston Churchill's History of the English Speaking Peoples and before that, Gone With The Wind. My context for Yankee therefore is a historical one and wondered how it is perceived beyond the north/south into current times and world wide.

  95. Xmun said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 10:18 pm

    "Afrikander", which these days, according to my dictionary, is applied only to breeds of sheep or cattle, was earlier also used of the people, otherwise known as the Boers, who spoke (and still speak) Afrikaans. I gather the word is formed on the pattern of "Hollander", presumably reanalysed as Hollan-der.

  96. Belinda said,

    August 31, 2010 @ 12:27 am

    People in the city of Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia are called 'Novocastrians'. (I suspect that this is true in all the Newcastles around the world.) I understand the how, but not the why. We also have a problem it seems with what to call people from New South Wales. I've seen the form "The man / woman / person from New South Wales", but I've only seen the form "The New South Welshman" a few times. And of course it almost goes without saying that "The New South Welsh person" is downright awkward even if it is inclusive.

  97. Just another Peter said,

    August 31, 2010 @ 1:02 am

    A few years ago there was a series of articles in The West Australian as to what people from Perth should be called. My personal favourite was "Perthonality".

    Another interesting area of non-standard adjective form is "Ocker" or "Aussie" for a person from Australia (used more in casual language than the more standard form "Australian")

  98. Sawney said,

    August 31, 2010 @ 1:56 am

    @Rodger C
    Scots (singular) is one of the languages of Scotland.
    (check here:
    Scots Pine? Even if it's not common where you guys come from, surely you know the Lumberjack Song?
    "Leaping from tree to tree, as they float down the mighty rivers of British Columbia. The Larch! The Fir! The mighty Scots Pine!…"

  99. Kevin Iga said,

    August 31, 2010 @ 3:09 am

    Then there's Thai, which is actually also the local term, ending in i, even though this is probably not related to the Semitic -i suffix. (It's a part of the root, not a suffix, in this context).

    About Serbs in Serbia: There's another phenomenon in Hawaii. Although many people outside Hawaii call anyone from Hawaii a "Hawaiian", in Hawaii itself, the term "Hawaiian" is a racial/ethnic identifier for descendants of the Polynesian settlers who arrived before Captain Cook. The word for a person from Hawaii is "local", as in "John is a local boy from Waimanalo. But he is Japanese, not Hawaiian".

    In Hawaii, the language "Hawaiian" refers to the ancient Polynesian language. The Hawaiian English Creole used commonly nowadays in Hawaii is locally called "Pidgin". Again, outsiders often use the term "Hawaiian" even when what is meant is the Hawaiian English Creole.

    This suffix is not etymologically linked to the Hawaiian language: nouns generally undergo zero affixation in becoming adjectives. So the Hawaiian Language is "Olelo Hawai'i" (Olelo means "speech"). In Pidgin, there is wide variation. In the form I was exposed to as a child, the adjective was "Hawaiian".

  100. JFM said,

    August 31, 2010 @ 3:34 am

    Jongseong Park said,
    >The bo- as in Botswana I'm not sure about.

    The bo- in Botswana derives from a class 14 prefix *bu. It commonly indicates abstract and/or collective notions like "bonna" (manhood); cfr "monna/banna" (man/men) with prefixes mo- and ba- of classes 1 and 2 respectively.

    Nouns with a bo-prefix can also acquire an additional locative significance, which then can come to signify nations or kingdoms, as in Botswana = the Tswana nation.

    The etymologically same prefix is used in the name Buganda, which is the proper native name for the Ganda kingdom. The form Uganda (for the country), on the other hand, derives from the widespread lingua franca Swahili, where the correspoding prefix is u-, not bu-. The u-prefix in Swahili, in turn, derives from a historical merger of class prefixes 11 *lu and 14 *bu.

    Swahili forms like Uganda (for Buganda), Unyoro (for Bunyoro), and so on, are often more widely used than the native forms, esp. in the colonial literature.

    Although worth mentioning is that chosing the Swahili form for the country was a concious choice, since Uganda (the country) is home for several ethnic groups and kingdoms besides Buganda.

  101. Julie said,

    August 31, 2010 @ 4:23 am

    It seems no one bothered giving our country a proper name, probably because each state saw itself as a separate nation. To some extent, that's still true. Each state has its own identity which it cultivates religiously.

    Personally, I don't mind sharing the word "American" with the Canadians, Mexicans, and the other American nationalities, although I'm sure we've spoiled the name for them. I'm content to be a Californian.

  102. Lugubert said,

    August 31, 2010 @ 5:36 am

    I can't decide on what I prefer when referring to US people: USAmericans or USAians.

  103. Roger Lustig said,

    August 31, 2010 @ 7:54 am

    @Rodger C: exactly! My point was that there was disagreement (or snobbery) about which English derivation from the Latin name for Manchester was better or nicer or whatever.

    Any meschuggeners from Michigan around here?

  104. Rodger C said,

    August 31, 2010 @ 8:26 am

    @Belinda: Novosilurians?

  105. Rodger C said,

    August 31, 2010 @ 8:33 am

    @Sawney: This has become a tangled thread that I'm sorry I started. I'm perfectly familiar with "Scots" as the name of a language. But like other language names, it's the nominalization of an adjective. My original point, somewhere up there, was that if "Scots-Irish" is a conscious blend of "Scotch-Irish" and "Ulster Scots," then it seems to blend words with two different grammatical functions.

    And just to stick my hand in another (I typed "anither," perhaps significantly–a form my mother still used on occasion, by the way) hornet's nest: If Scots is a distinct language (which I accept it is), then why am I obliged to use the word "Scots" when speaking English?

  106. Debbie said,

    August 31, 2010 @ 8:33 am

    Most of the Canadians that I know refer to people in the US as either Americans or sometimes, 'south of the border….' If I were anywhere else in the world and I was referred to as American I would assume that they thought that I was from the US and I would be inclined to correct that person. Do people from South America get called Americans in other parts of the world?

  107. Colin John said,

    August 31, 2010 @ 8:50 am

    A few observations:
    Scotch whisky to me is only blended whisky, not single malt.
    I was born a 'Sandgrounder' (from Southport, Lancashire), almost certainly related to 'Sandgrownun' (Blackpool), because of the extensive sandy beaches.
    I later moved to Wolverhampton, home of 'Wulfrunians' named after the Saxon Queen Wulfruna who allegedly founded the town.

  108. George said,

    August 31, 2010 @ 9:16 am

    Debbie: Are citizens of the U.S. known anywhere other than as American, or something derived from it?

    In Arabic, we are 'amriiki (standard) or 'amrikaani (Egyptian dialect) (these are the singular masculine forms). When referring to the country, they use the Arabic equivalent of 'United States.'

  109. stephen said,

    August 31, 2010 @ 10:07 am

    I'd like to ask about the Scandinavian countries.
    Why wasn't there a country called "Scandinavia"?
    How did we get the terms for people from those countries?
    We say Norwegian instead of Norwaian or Norwagian or Norish.
    How are they referred to in other languages?
    Why is it Finland instead of Finnland?
    Why are they Finns instead of Fins or Finish or Finites?
    How interchangeable are the suffixes for the country names?
    Could we have had:
    Swedway, Swedland, Swedmark;
    Norland, Normark, Norden



  110. Rodger C said,

    August 31, 2010 @ 10:49 am

    @@stephen: Just a couple of casual responses. "Swedland" does occur in older English. "Scandinavia" is from Jornandes' (or Jordanes' if you prefer the MS readings) transcription of the Germanic name of the big "island" north of Germany. What he heard was evidently *Skandin-Auja, but writing in Latin with no i/j or u/v distinction, he gave us SCANDINAVIA. The word survives as the name of the southernmost part of Sweden.

  111. John Walden said,

    August 31, 2010 @ 2:22 pm

    Cut and paste from the horse's mouth of the Spanish Academy, but it's safe to say that I've heard these strictures, and many of its others, blithely ignored:

    "Estados Unidos. 1. Nombre abreviado que se usa corrientemente para referirse al país de América del Norte cuyo nombre oficial es Estados Unidos de América. Puede usarse con artículo o sin él. Si se usa precedido de artículo, el verbo va en plural: «Los Estados Unidos han pedido a Francia que aplace su decisión» (Vanguardia [Esp.] 2.9.95). Si se emplea sin artículo, el verbo va en singular: «Estados Unidos está preparado para abrir negociaciones» (Proceso [Méx.] 2.2.97).

    2. Es frecuente referirse a este país a través de su abreviatura: EE. UU. Puesto que se trata de una abreviatura, y no de una sigla, debe escribirse con puntos y con un espacio de separación entre los dos pares de letras. Existe también la sigla EUA, que, como corresponde a las siglas, se escribe sin puntos. No debe emplearse en español la sigla USA, que corresponde al nombre inglés United States of America.

    3. El gentilicio recomendado, por ser el de uso mayoritario, es estadounidense, aunque en algunos países de América, especialmente en México, se emplea con preferencia la forma estadunidense, también válida. Debe evitarse el empleo de la voz usamericano, por estar formada sobre la sigla inglesa. Tampoco es aceptable la forma estadinense, usada alguna vez en Colombia a propuesta de algunos filólogos, y que no ha prosperado. Coloquialmente se emplea la voz yanqui (→ yanqui), a menudo con matiz despectivo.

    4. Está muy generalizado, y resulta aceptable, el uso de norteamericano como sinónimo de estadounidense, ya que, aunque en rigor el término norteamericano podría usarse igualmente en alusión a los habitantes de cualquiera de los países de América del Norte o Norteamérica (→ Norteamérica), se aplica corrientemente a los habitantes de los Estados Unidos. Pero debe evitarse el empleo de americano para referirse exclusivamente a los habitantes de los Estados Unidos, uso abusivo que se explica por el hecho de que los estadounidenses utilizan a menudo el nombre abreviado América (en inglés, sin tilde) para referirse a su país. No debe olvidarse que América es el nombre de todo el continente y son americanos todos los que lo habitan."

    Just for fun, the Google translation:

    United States. 1. The abbreviated name commonly used to refer to North American country whose official name is United States of America. Article can be used with or without him. If using previous articles, the verb is plural: "The United States has asked France to postpone its decision" (Vanguard [Esp] 02/09/1995). If no article is used, the verb is singular: "America is ready for negotiations" (Process [Mex.] 02/02/1997).

    2. It is common to refer to this country by its abbreviation: EE. UU. Since it is an abbreviation, not an acronym, should be written with dots and a space between the two pairs of letters. There is also the initials U.S., which, as befits the acronym, is written without points. You should not use the acronym in Spanish dollars, which corresponds to the English name United States of America.

    3. The gentile recommended as the most widely used, is American, although in some countries of America, especially Mexico, is used in preference to the American way, also valid. Avoid the use of the word Americans, being formed on the acronym. Nor is it acceptable form estadinense, used once in Colombia on a proposal of some philologists, and has not prospered. The word is used colloquially Yankee (→ Yankee), often with pejorative nuance.

    4. Is widespread, and is acceptable, the use of U.S. as a synonym for American, because, although strictly speaking the American word could be used also in reference to the inhabitants of any country in North America or North America (→ North America) currently applies to people in the United States. But it should avoid the use of American to refer exclusively to the inhabitants of the United States, abuse can be explained by the fact that Americans often use the Latin abbreviation (in English, without tilde) to refer to their country. Do not forget that America is the name of the entire American continent and are all that inhabit it. "

    It's really not at all bad but, apart from getting completely lost with the abbreviations, understandably, Google seems to having another Biblical Moment, translating 'gentilicio' (name of the inhabitants of a region) as 'gentile'. And why might 'sigla USA' end up as 'dollars'?

  112. Jongseong Park said,

    August 31, 2010 @ 3:25 pm

    Stephen, I think Finnland was a spelling used in Old English, and it is still used in German and Icelandic. The modern spelling may have been influenced by the Swedish spelling Finland.

    I wouldn't say that -way, -mark, and -land are really interchangeable. Finnmark is a name for a region in the far north of Scandinavia in what is today Norway. Norrland is a term for the northern part of Sweden. Norrmarkku in Finnish or Norrmark in Swedish is a place in Finland. Daneway is a hamlet in England.

    The form 'Norwegian' reflects the Old English 'weġ', which became 'way'. Norway was Nor(þ)weġ in Old English.

  113. David Starner said,

    August 31, 2010 @ 5:22 pm

    People from Massachusetts are Bay Staters, at least according to Massachusetts law.

    Fuss about American for people from my nation has always annoyed me; why on Earth do you need one word to name people from two separate continents? People from North America can be called North Americans. People from South American can be called South Americans. People from North America or Asia can be called North Americans or Asians. People from North America or South America can be called North or South Americans. It's always struck me as a way to hassle Americans more than a legitimate concern, and it seems to almost always come from non-native speakers of my language, from whom I'm getting a little tired of lectures on what's the right usage in my language.

  114. Jongseong Park said,

    August 31, 2010 @ 5:23 pm

    On second thought, 'Norwegian' probably has more to do with the Latin form Norvegia.

  115. Debbie said,

    August 31, 2010 @ 5:51 pm

    @David S., if I understand you correctly, that is what I'm trying to figure out and it started with the comment that Americans have to refer to themselves as US-Americans. This confused me as I wondered, 'As opposed to what other Americans?" I don't expect that anybody outside of the US but living in either North or South America would refer to themselves as American, they would identify themselves with their country within the continent. As for the above translation, and speaking for myself, I don't begrudge people south of the boarder using the term American to refer to themselves. If this is confusing to anybody, consider that the country is the United States of America and not of North America, thus encompassing all countries contained therein.

  116. Ralph Hickok said,

    August 31, 2010 @ 7:50 pm

    I've always wondered why we call it Finland when the people who live there call it Suomi.
    And why do we call it Germany (and the French call it Allemagne) when the people who live there call it Deutschland?

  117. marie-lucie said,

    August 31, 2010 @ 9:34 pm

    In many instances, the original inhabitants of a place do not have a name for themselves (often they are only "the people" and their territory "the land"), but they need to have names for their various neighbours and the latter's territories In Europe, traditional names are often adapted from Latinized versions, popularized during the many centuries where Latin was the de facto official language of many countries: names adopted by earlier administrations and chancelries for official records and correspondence often became fixed in national and international usage. In addition, the current nation-states were not always such. The entity known to Tacitus as "Germania" (the name preserved in English, where the "man" element shows its Germanic origin) was not a nation-state but was made up of a multiplicity of tribes (eg the "Alemanni", hence French "Allemands", Spanish "alemanes") who shifted territories considerably over a period of centuries. For many more centuries the "Holy Roman Empire", no longer based in Rome, was rather a cultural than a political entity, split into large and small more or less independent states: Bavaria, Prussia, Pfalz, etc), and the relatively recently unified "Germany"/ "Deutschland" has never encompassed all speakers of Germanic varieities (Hitler's pan-Germanic attempt was unsuccessful).

    Even if a country (or its governing class) changes its name, it does not mean that the new name (or pronunciation of the new name) will be adopted by all other countries, especially the neighbouring ones, whose inhabitants are used to the old names. Germanic names are usually compounds ending in words like "land", "reich" (kingdom), "mark" (border area), etc, not in suffixes as in Latin. After "Gallia" was taken over by the Franks, a Germanic people, the country was called in Latin "Francia" by adding the -ia suffix common for names of countries, but in German its name is still "Frankreich" 'kingdom of the Franks", not an adaptation of "France" which is the modern result of evolution from Latin. On the other hand, French "Angleterre" and Italian "Inghilterra" are loan-translations using "terre/terra" as literal translations of the "land" in "Engle-land", but these formations are isolated instances which have not spread to names of other Germanic entities ending in "land".

  118. Rodger C said,

    August 31, 2010 @ 10:20 pm

    I believe "Germania" is a Celtic word; it means nothing I can recognize in Germanic. "Finland" is Germanic and is said, so I've heard, to mean "land of foragers" (cf. "find").

  119. stephen said,

    September 1, 2010 @ 8:38 am

    Thanks, Rodger and Jongseong. It's interesting to know some of those places exist.

    Michiganders and Michiganians have talked for a long time about which term to use:

    We also have "Trolls". They live "below the bridge", referring to the
    Mackinac Bridge which links the upper and lower peninsulas.

    That's pronounced "Mackinaw" by the way.

    And people who live in the U.P. are called Yoopers.

    We also like to use our hands to show where things are located in the state. Who else in the world can use body parts as maps of their locales?

  120. Rodger C said,

    September 1, 2010 @ 10:04 am

    @stephen: Well, there's the standup comedian from West Virginia who likes to end his act with the story about a fellow from up North who makes a disparaging joke about WVans. "Ha ha. Say, where are you from?" "Michigan–right here." *holds up palm and points* "Oh. Well, I'm from WV–right here." *holds up hand with thumb and middle finger extended and points*

  121. John Cowan said,

    September 1, 2010 @ 11:57 am

    The Latin name Scandinavia first appears in Pliny, but did not become popularized until . The first n is almost certainly a typo introduced by a scribe: the word skadi(n) may in this context derive from either 'danger' (English scathing is cognate) or else 'shadow'. Skåne in southern Sweden (formerly eastern Denmark), sometimes called Scania in English, is the same word in origin.

    The second part appears in English as the first part of island (the s there was inserted in imitation of French isle < Latin insula) and in many English and Scottish place names ending in -ey, and perhaps in the unusual word eyot/ait meaning a small island.

  122. John Cowan said,

    September 1, 2010 @ 11:59 am

    "until the 19th century"

  123. Rodger C said,

    September 1, 2010 @ 12:05 pm

    @John Cowan: Thanks, I was speaking from memory. But you raise another linguistic point: When did "typo" cease to be felt as anachronistic when applied to MSS? I called out a dissertation writer on the same usage a couple of years ago. God I'm old. :P

  124. groki said,

    September 1, 2010 @ 2:27 pm

    Rodger C: I called out a dissertation writer on the same usage a couple of years ago.

    in those ancient days, was there a version of "typo" for MSS, like "scripto" or something?

  125. Rodger C said,

    September 1, 2010 @ 3:47 pm

    As far as I can recall, we just said "error."

  126. groki said,

    September 1, 2010 @ 5:07 pm

    aww, I was hoping to learn yet another "ur doin it rong!" synonym; I already knew "error" (an intimate familiar, in fact :).

  127. Alon Lischinsky said,

    September 2, 2010 @ 8:03 am

    @John Walden: the Spanish Academy has always mixed substandard lexicography with prescriptivist poppycock, and it's necessary to take their pronouncements cum mica salis. In the case you quote, "debe evitarse" means roughly "we don't like it when you do it", and has no basis in actual practice.

    It wouldn't be too hard to check the relative frequency of the various demonyms in a decent corpus of Spanish, such as Mark Davies's (and it'd actually be a trivial task, except for the manual disambiguation required for "american*").

    @GN: as Cory stated, Spanish shares the English penchant for the nisba as a suffix for North African and Middle Eastern demonyms, from bengalí to ceutí. Many of these alternate with the more regular -ita, giving rise to doublets such as saudí/saudita, but in most cases the Semitic suffix is the only option (in others, such as israelí/israelita, the alternate versions are not semantically equivalent).

  128. mollymooly said,

    September 2, 2010 @ 11:33 am

    Latin Americans often call United Statesians "North Americans", which must peeve any passing Canadians.

    Norwegians from Norway are echoed in Galwegians, who can be from Galway or Galloway.

    "Who else in the world can use body parts as maps of their locales?"
    The Italians (excluding Sicilians, Sardinians, and the prudes of Genoa and Venice). As in the famous tourist slogan "Come to Pescara, the popliteal fossa to Rome's patella".

  129. J Lee said,

    September 2, 2010 @ 5:29 pm

    I think a more interesting question is how speakers spontaneously coin adjectives derived from personal names, since these generally aren't institutionalized like place names (although a notable counterexample is "Clintonian" but I would argue that this too has been lexicalized since it has a distinct pejorative sense).

  130. Boudica said,

    September 3, 2010 @ 8:36 am

    If -way becomes -wegian, how did Glasgow become Glaswegian?

  131. Amy Jasper said,

    December 4, 2010 @ 5:05 pm

    This discussion is long dead but I wanted to offer what I believe is a wholly singular demonym: Cyprus –> Cypriot. If someone can point out another -iot I'd like to see it.

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