Friday, January 8, 2010

Word Of The Decade

Benjamin Zimmer posted about the American Dialect Society's Word of the Decade vote coming up tonight in Baltimore and I noticed something unusual about one of the candidates: 9/11.  I commented thusly:

Hmmm, for word of the decade I find 9/11 most interesting, linguistically speaking. While google follows a well known pattern of turning a brand name into a verb (e.g., xerox that for me), 9/11 names an infamous event by the date it occurred. Are there any other examples of this? We don’t refer to Pearl Harbor as 12/7 or Waterloo as 6/18 (yep, had to wiki that one). Normally we use place names. I’m trying to think of another example of this usage and I’m coming up blank. Only the fourth of July comes to mind as similar.

Can anyone think of other examples of this, in any language? I'll be in Baltimore tonight meeting friends at the LSA. I might pop into the meeting and put in my two cents. Hopefully there will be rabid debate, angry protestations, booze...too much to hope for fisticuffs?

UPDATE: Peter Taylor posted a nice response over at LL in the comments: it's far more common in Spanish. Cinco de Mayo probably rings a bell, even if you can't say what happened then. My city (Valencia, Spain) has a metro stop, a hospital, and I don't know what else named for the 9th October, commemorating the day it was captured from the Moors in 1238. There are also streets named for (at minimum) the 3rd April, 25th April, 1st May, and 18th July.

8 comments:

Licia said...

Naming streets for dates is also quite common in Italy. In Milan, for example, we have 6 febbraio, 22 marzo, 25 aprile, primo maggio, 5 maggio, 24 maggio, 2 giugno, 20 settembre and 4 novembre but most Italians would only know the meaning of 25/4, 1/5 and 2/6 (European date format!) as they are also national holidays, whereas most of the other dates commemorate local historical events that hardly anybody would be familiar with.

In Italian it's also quite common to refer to Women's Day as 8 marzo, possibly because it's quicker to say than la festa della donna (or la giornata della donna).

Chris said...

Licia, interesting. So we've got two Romance language cultures where this is common and one, the U.S. where it is not. I'd be curious about other cultures now. How about Japan, China, India, Russia, Fiji?

jp 吉平 said...

Off topic, but I read your post and this is where my brain went...

When I say the word "Tiananmen Square" to my Chinese friends, they think of the wide open civic plaza in front of the Forbidden City in Beijing.

When I say it "Tiananmen Square" in the US, it almost invariably refers to the protests and government crackdown in 1988.

Last spring in the Chinese gov't blocked a lot of sites on the internet, as they always do, but at the time it seemed even more strict. I asked someone (a Westerner) what it was, and the answer was "Tiananmen Square."

Anonymous said...

> Normally we use place names

I assume that the reason 9/11 caught on was that it happened in multiple places - World Trade Center + Pentagon + Pennsylvania, and referring to it only as the "World Trade Center disaster" would have been considered insensitive to the other victims.

The Ridger said...

Russian (and other Slavic languages) does this frequently, too. 7 November (the Revolution), for instance, or 8 March (Int'l Women's Day).

Taj said...

I've been living in the Himalayas for a while, and we refer to the November 26th (2008) terrorist attacks in Mumbai as 26/11.

Chris said...

all great data, thanks! I do think there's something culturally interesting going on here.

Taj, I wonder if 26/11 is influenced by 9/11?

Licia said...

American English usage of numbers to convey concepts is also quite interesting, e.g. 101 and 411 for "basics" and "information". We don't have anything of the kind in Italian and, as far as I am aware, it is not common in British English either.

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