Saturday, October 5, 2002

Where did this one come from?

ALL of us are familiar with eponym, a word coined from the Greek eponumos, which means giving one’s name to someone or something. Toponyms are a variation of the same theme. They are derived from the Greek topos (place) and onuma (name); words coined from the names of places. Let’s look at some toponyms today.

Mecca in Saudi Arabia is the holiest of holy places for Muslims; hence, it is a centre of activity, a place not to be missed. The sense of it being the hub and pivot is carried on when, for example, Paris becomes the Mecca for young fashion designers. So, Mecca could be the goal to which adherents of a particular class fervently aspire, the centre of interest and a must-visit place of pilgrimage for any religion.

Ground Zero, the site of the twin world trade towers has become a Golgotha for many after September 11, 2001. Golgotha is a place or occasion of great suffering, derived as it is from the hill near Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified.

Marathon was the place in ancient Greece where the Greeks defeated the Persians in 490 B.C. They sent a messenger to Athens to announce the victory. A long-distance race came to be called a marathon and soon any task or action requiring prolonged effort or endurance became a marathon.

Who changed the meaning?
September 14, 2002
Who coins new words?
August 31, 2002
Current trends
August 17, 2002
August 3, 2002
Grandparent languages
July 20, 2002
Thank you computers!
July 6, 2002
Computer-created words
June 22, 2002
Fiddling with words, again!
June 8, 2002
Fiddling with words
May 25, 2002
May 11, 2002

Gold and silver articles were, once upon a time, appraised and stamped at a place called Hall in London, thus giving them the hallmark of quality. Hallmark soon became much more than a mere mark. Today, a hallmark is a mark indicating quality or excellence or, a conspicuous feature or characteristic.

Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo, Belgium, in 1815, giving us a word for a crushing or disastrous defeat in any sphere.

In the year 1974, an attempt to bug the national headquarters of the Democratic Party led to the resignation of President Nixon. The headquarters were located at the Watergate building in Washington D.C. Thus was born a word for any scandal involving officials violating public or corporate trust for the purpose of retaining their positions — Watergate!

Many nationalities lived together peacefully within the Roman Empire in ancient Rome, coining the word Pax Romana, peace within Rome. Today, it has come to mean peace in any part of the world: whether uneasy or imposed.

Gibraltar, a British colony on the southern coast of Spain, which is the home of the Rock of Gibraltar, gives two toponyms: Gibraltar, an impregnable stronghold, and Rock of Gibraltar, something or someone whose strength one can rely upon.

In the ancient world, the Greek colony of Soloi was far removed from the mother state of Athens and due to this distance, the colonised developed a Greek dialect of their own. When the true Athenians came to Soloi they were shocked at what they considered a degenerate form of their mother tongue. So, from Soloi they devised the adjective soloikismos. Latin changed it to soloecismus and later in English it came to be known as solecism, meaning a blunder or provincialism in speech or writing.


Many products take their names from the places they are manufactured in. The Lakhnavi suit, Patialvi jutti and the Bengali sandesh we all recognise. The list is endless: sirohi, the sword originally manufactured at Sirohi in Rajasthan; bidar, the metalwork first produced in Bidar; kaleen from a place in Armenia; and kashmira, the woollen cloth first designed in Kashmir.

This feature was published on September 28, 2002