Denizen Labels (1). Today: Generally. What do you call someone from . . . ? Often that’s not an easy question. Residents of Columbus, Ohio (or Georgia, Nebraska, or Indiana) are called “Columbusites.” But someone from the town of Columbus, Mississippi, is called a “Columbian.” Those inconsistencies can be confusing, but they’re usually undisputed within a given locale. Sometimes even the authorities can’t agree. Someone from Michigan is (formerly by statute) a “Michiganian” — but many in Michigan prefer to be called “Michiganders.” Almost no one there wants to be called a “Michiganite,” yet the U.S. Government Printing Office specifies that form. Best for Michigan folk and others to follow the law or local preference — not what some stylesheet-writer in Washington says. Loose guidelines do exist for naming denizens. George R. Stewart, a historian, developed seven guidelines that H.L. Mencken called “Stewart’s Laws of Municipal Onomastics.” They were cited in the best up-to-date work on this subject, Paul Dickson’s Labels for Locals (1997): (1) if the place name ends in “-a” or “-ia,” add “-n” (Alaska, Alaskan) (California, Californian); (2) if the name ends in “-i” or a sounded “-e,” add “-an” (Hawaii, Hawaiian) (Albuquerque, Albuquerquean); (3) if the name ends in “-on,” add “-ian” (Oregon, Oregonian); (4) if the name ends in “-y,” change the “-y” to an “-i” and add “-an” (Albany, Albanian); (5) if the name ends in “-o,” add “-an” (Chicago, Chicagoan); (6) if the name ends in a consonant or a silent “-e,” add either “-ite” or “-er,” depending on euphony (Maine, Mainer) (New Hampshire, New Hampshireite); (7) if the name ends in “-polis,” change that to “-politan” (Minneapolis, Minneapolitan). In the next two entries, we’ll look at some nonintuitive denizen labels. For information about the Language-Change Index, click here. Next: U.S. States and Cities. Quotation of the Day: “There is no need to mistake obscurity of expression for profundity of thought.” Lester S. King, Why Not Say It Clearly 148 (1978).
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