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3 Corpse Flowers Are About to Bloom in Washington, D.C.

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Washington, D.C., won't see a total solar eclipse on August 21 (residents will get upwards of 80 percent coverage), but there's another incredible natural phenomenon that could help make up for it. Three corpse flowers are expected to bloom at the United States Botanic Garden, stinking up its conservatory sometime between August 17 and 23.

Corpse flowers are native to Indonesia and known for their pungent smell that's reminiscent of rotting garbage, as well as their infrequent blooms. The strange plant, also called the titan arum, can grow up to 12 feet tall, so its blooms (technically inflorescences, or flower clusters) are quite the spectacle. The three plants at the Botanic Garden started out between two and three feet in height, but are growing quickly as they approach opening. The flower on the far left in the Botanic Garden's live stream, below, was 36 inches tall on August 6. By August 10, it had already shot up to 54 inches.

The Botanic Garden says this is likely the first time three corpse flowers at one institution have bloomed at once in North America. Chicago's Botanic Garden had two bloom back in June, and the New York Botanic Garden and the United States Botanic Garden had one bloom each last summer. There are a few possible explanations for why all these corpse flowers appear to be blooming around the same time, but the eclipse isn't one of them. The partial occlusion of the sun over D.C. is just a coincidence, but together they might make quite the natural show for the nation's capital.

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rraszews
8 days ago
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A weird, huge flower that smells of death and only blooms during a TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE SUN? Um. I've seen Little Shop of Horrors. This sounds like bad news.

How an 1892 'Trip to the Moon' Changed How We Think About Space

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Most days in 1892, ticketholders at Manhattan's Carnegie Music Hall enjoyed programs of standard entertainment: the New York Philharmonic; a famous speaker; a ragtime show. But starting in February, every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday, they got something a little different. As soon as the theater's lights went down, the sun came up again, rising over an onstage lake that rippled just like the real thing. Next, the moon began to rise next to the sun, and gradually, dramatically obscured it. This was Scene #1 of A Trip to the Moon—a perfect rendition of the total solar eclipse of 1887, yanked through time and space and reconstructed inside the theater.

"Audiences had, in a sense, seen it all," writes the media scholar Artemis Willis. But when curtain lifted on A Trip to the Moon's first scene, "their cynicism yielded to wonder." Over the next 90 minutes, viewers were treated to a number of rare and, at the time, impossible sights: lunar landscapes, cosmic nebulae, the earth as viewed from the moon, and more, all produced through an alchemy of stagecraft, lighting, and special effects. By the time they rose from their seats, Willis argues, they had absorbed not only facts and figures, but a whole new way of looking at space.

As Willis details in a recent paper about the show, A Trip to the Moon was first dreamed up in 1889, at the Urania Institute in Berlin. Unlike most observatories at the time, which had their hands full catering to experts, the Institute focused on curious laypeople—what one admirer, the astronomer Edward Holden, described as "that very large and intelligent section of the public which is intensely interested in the results of astronomical observation… but does not care at all for the small details which the special student must attend to."

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As part of these efforts, the Institute put together a number of stage presentations, which taught attendees about everything from the geological birth of Earth to the tides and currents of the Arctic Ocean. The shows proved extremely popular, and when word of them reached Andrew Carnegie, he decided to bring one or two over to New York City and stage them in his brand new Music Hall. "Mr. Carnegie's idea is to discover whether there is real demand for such institutes in America, and to assist in founding them, if there is," wrote Holden.

The Berlin version of the show was already a multimedia marvel, but for its own trip to the Music Hall—about seven times the size of the theater at the Urania Institute—A Trip to the Moon got even more gussied up. Larger versions of the set pieces were painted in Berlin and shipped over, and the staging took full advantage of the Music Hall's recent renovations, during which the venue had been outfitted with electrical wiring and lighting.

Every scene involved what Willis calls an "electro-mechanical-theatrical tableau," in which stage lights waxed, waned, and changed colors, magic lanterns projected scenes onto set pieces, and backstage crew members put various props through complex paces. Plus, it was all accurate: "Each move of the moon was charted to accurately reflect the phenomena, and then choreographed behind the scenes," says Willis. "It would be really difficult to pull off such a performance today."

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For example, the climactic "Scene #6: Solar Eclipse as Seen from the Moon," involved three celestial bodies, each differently positioned, and all interacting with one another. As illustrated at the top of this article, the moon—the scene's vantage point—was represented by a painted canvas, lit from underneath by electric footlights. The sun was a lightbox sewn into a black drop cloth (which also had holes pricked in, for stars), and the earth was a phosphorescent disk with a ring of red gelatin around it. In the scene, the sun slowly crosses behind the earth, backlighting the gelatin and suffusing the stage with a red glow. The footlights below the canvas then gradually change to red, "transferring" the light of the eclipse to the moon's surface.

A Trip to the Moon premiered on February 10, 1892, to an intrigued audience. But after a week and a half of lukewarm reviews, the production took the step that, in Willis's view, really put it over the top: it went in for a script rewrite. The original narration, written by the Urania Institute's Max Wilhelm Meyer and performed by a wide-eyed actor, "was sort of clunky and romantic," Willis says. "The New York press picked up on that right away."

As one New York Times critic wrote, the "Wagnerian drama" didn't play well with this particular audience: "The lecture is heralded as gravely as if it were a new religion just discovered," they wrote. "The audience is edified so gradually that there is more awe than comfort in it."

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The producers went out looking for a script doctor, and settled on Garrett P. Serviss, an astronomy columnist for the New York Sun. Over the course of nine days, Serviss rewrote the narration completely; when the show re-opened, he had taken on hosting duties as well. The result was a Trip to the Moon that, a happier Times critic wrote, was led "by someone who knew the way." Where Meyer had spun grandiose tales, Serviss provided plainspoken explanations, grounded in facts. For example, during Scene #6, Serviss laid out exactly what was going on:

"Such an eclipse would present phenomena far different from those which we behold during a solar eclipse upon the earth. The most remarkable difference would be that arising from the fact that the earth is enveloped in air. The atmosphere of the earth, owing to its refractive property, acts like a lens surrounding the terrestrial globe, and bends the sunlight around its edge.

So, when the sun disappears behind the earth as seen from the moon, a brilliant circle of light girds the earth, and this light… produces a considerable illumination on the moon. The color of the luminous ring encircling the earth, under these circumstances, will be that of the sunrise and sunset sky, because the light has to penetrate the dust and vapor floating in the air, and the red rays most easily accomplish the passage."

Compare this, Willis says, to Meyer's version of the scene, in which the Earth is referred to as "the moon's astral mother," and its light as "the only agency of communication that is still left to her," sent through space "a last greeting to her only daughter, lost so early in death."

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A hobbyist astronomer himself, Serviss also made sure to foreground the concerns of actual experts. "He would try to find ways to help his audiences imagine our relation to the cosmos as investigators of it," says Willis. "[He was] encouraging a kind of mind travel, [as with the] 'Spaceship of the Imagination'"—a device Carl Sagan used, in his seminal television show Cosmos, to represent the possibilities of scientific inquiry.

A Trip to the Moon played at the Music Hall for just over two years, and then did a short tour of the East Coast. Its creators went on to successful careers: Serviss began lecturing full-time (and later established himself as a prolific science fiction author), and the show's lighting designer, J. Carl Mayrhofer, started his own company.

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But in Willis's reading, the show left another legacy: the ability for ordinary people to look at the heavens with something more than slack-jawed awe. Where earlier astronomical entertainments, including Meyer's original A Trip to the Moon, leaned into astronomy's reputation as "the sublime science"—full of proof of God's limitless power, and humanity's infinite smallness—A Trip to the Moon replaced some of that void-staring with curiosity. "It didn't just say, 'This is God's great work, be afraid of it,'" says Willis. "It described the phenomena in terms that produced wonder."

"The information was as new as possible, and the technology was as new as possible," she says. "That's where I think wonder was produced: in the space between the actual lunar phenomena, and the enactment of them." As with an eclipse, in which the juxtaposition of the sun and the moon makes each more magnificent, A Trip to the Moon made knowledge and its representation dance around each other, equal at last.

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rraszews
12 days ago
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Serviss also penned an unlicensed sequel to HG Wells's "The War of the Worlds" in which Thomas Edison invents a death ray and uses it to lead a genocidal counter-invasion of Mars.

'Giants' on Granville Island Silos in Vancouver, Canada

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Giants.

A row of silos on Granville Island is among the most photographed things in Vancouver. The six towers, each 70 feet tall, were once a dull gray, but now feature a colorful crew of giants. Half of them face the boats on False Creek, and the other three look inward, towards the Ocean Concrete plant.

The silos are the work of Brazilian twins Gustavo and Otavio Pandolfo, known collectively as OSGEMEOS (Portuguese for THETWINS). The duo has been graffitiing since 1987. Their work has had a profound influence on Brazilian graffiti and spans the globe, with pieces in Asia, Europe, and North and South Americas.

In 2014 the Vancouver Biennale commissioned the twins to bring their ongoing mural series “Giants” to British Columbia. OSGEMEOS chose the silos on Granville Island to add depth to the two-dimensional pieces they normally create. Ocean Concrete has a long history of community participation and happily offered a medium for what was at the time the biggest public mural of their career.

Initial estimates were set around $50,000, which included cleaning the grime from the silos and supplying 90 gallons of paint for the undercoat. The twins went through 1,400 cans of spray paint, and the final bill ended up at $180,000, some of which was crowdsourced during the project.

Giants was part of the Biennale’s Open Air Museum, which curates international art in the city’s public spaces. None of it is intended to be permanent though; after two years the pieces are taken down or painted over to make room for new projects, unless a donor intervenes. As was the case with previous Open Air artist Yue Minjun’s “A-maze-ing Laughter.” The city was so distraught over the thought of losing the 14 laughing men statues that Lululemon founder Chip Wilson and his wife Shannon bought the piece and donated it to the city.

The fate of OSGEMEOS Giants is still uncertain. They’re a beloved addition to the Vancouver skyline, but it costs about $17,000 a year to maintain them, and someone will have to step up, just as Chip and Shannon Wilson did for “A-maze-ing Laughter,” if they’re to remain.

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rraszews
14 days ago
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Striking resemblance to the MyFamilyBuilders toy line.

The Mischievous 'Ghost Hoaxers' of 19th-Century Australia

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In 1882, in the southeast Australian state of Victoria, repeated attacks on the general public were carried out by a figure known only as the “Wizard Bombardier.”

This individual was known for wearing an ostentatious outfit of white robes and a sugarloaf hat. The Wizard’s strategy involved disorienting people with loud screams before hurling stones and other sorts of missiles at them. Then the ghoulish individual made a quick dash and was gone.

Attacks like these, in which pranksters disguised as ghosts would wreak havoc, came to be known as “ghost hoaxing.” There were many cases and perpetrators in Australia from the late 19th century to the First World War—to the point that rewards were offered for the apprehension of ghost hoaxers.

In this era, Australia was the perfect location for villains and rogues who wished to imitate apparitions for their own ends. Dr David Waldron, author of “ Playing the Ghost: Ghost Hoaxing and Supernaturalism in Late Nineteenth-Century Victoria,” says that the lack of professionalised police meant that Australia had a particular “lawlessness.” An abundance of leisure time and a lack of affordable entertainment options created an environment ideal for ghost hoaxers who often used their own theatrics to entertain themselves.

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Technology helped make the ghost pranksters look more spooky. As Waldron writes, the recent invention of phosphorescent paint meant that individuals could glow in the dark as they menaced others, which made their outfits all the more believable and gave the hoaxers an otherworldly appearance. Ghost hoaxers sometimes fashioned elaborate disguises—in 1895, one prankster created a costume to resemble a knight and emblazoned the phrase “prepare to meet thy doom” on his armor. To ratchet up the threat factor, this “knight” also threatened people with decapitation.

Australia during this period was very concerned about the threat of “larrikins,” who were rowdy youths out to cause mischief. Some of these larrikins regarded ghost costumes as suitable devices with which to commit crime and violence. A sort of urban warfare was fought, with ghost hoaxers on one side and, on the other, vigilantes and armed guards who were determined to shoot these pranksters with buckshot to end their mischief.

Waldron has identified that despite the ghost pranks being associated with the working class, once the ghosts were apprehended, “many if not most of those arrested” were in fact “school teachers and clerks and the like and a small number of middle-class women.”

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One unexpected ghost hoaxer was Herbert Patrick McLennan, who in 1904 equipped himself with a glowing outfit that included a top hat, frock coat, and boots. Most menacingly, McLennan carried a cat o’nine tails whip and used it to assault women he encountered. When a bounty of £5 was placed on McLennan, he proceeded to declare war on the authorities, threatening to shoot anyone who came after him in a letter addressed to local leaders, in which he referred to himself as “the ghost.” When McLennan was arrested, however, it was discovered that he was a powerful and influential clerk and public speaker. McLennan was sent to jail, but he was soon back out again.

Some ghost pranksters made their own custom disguises, such as wearing a coffin strapped to their backs so as to give the appearance of having risen from the dead, as in one case in 1895. A female ghost hoaxer even incorporated music by playing a guitar while she skulked around near a hotel, according to reports in 1880 and 1889.

One theme common to ghost hoaxers was the use of pre-existing superstitions and locations that were regarded as haunted. Ghost hoaxers often occupied sites that were already associated with death, such as cemeteries, in order to double down on fear. Some hoaxers even painted a skull and crossbones in a particular location to create fear before they arrived wearing claws and animal skins to wreak havoc.

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To the wider community, ghost hoaxers presented a threat not just through fear but also via crime and violence, such as indecent exposure, sexual assault, or even just stealing eggs. Not all citizens were prepared to stay helpless in the face of this threat. In 1896, ex-soldier called Charles Horman seemed to be a one-man army against the ghost impersonators. He opened fire with a shotgun on one youth who was pretending to be a ghost, while using a cane to attack another hoaxer who was assaulting a woman.

Parents whose children had been physically attacked by ghost pranksters also took the law into their own hands. One woman, Mrs Date, unleashed her pit bull on a ghost hoaxer who had assaulted her daughter. In 1913 a mob of vigilantes chased after and beat a man wearing a glowing ghost outfit who had terrified an old man.

Eventually the phenomenon of the ghost hoaxers disappeared, hastened by the arrival of World War I, which took the lives of over 60,000 Australian soldiers. As Waldron says, the war showed that there were “far bigger issues at stake and the symbolism of death becoming less amusing.” With human mortality no longer a premise for pranks, ghost hoaxing lost its spirit for good.

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rraszews
20 days ago
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And they would have gotten away with it too, if it weren't for those meddling kids.

The Devilish Sexploitation Films That Combined Satan and Sensuality

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A man sits in his living room, quietly watching a Disney show on television in the 1960s. Suddenly, the devil, dressed in a red onesie and sporting a forked tail, pops up behind the man: now he’s watching a burlesque routine—a woman dancing in a bikini. After her pasties bobble back and forth, the man watching gets visibly uncomfortable and turns to devil. “I wanted to watch a Walt Disney show!” shouts the man. “I didn’t even care when you dug graves in my backyard, but this is enough!”

So goes part of the plot of the 1964 movie, My Tale is Hot. It’s one of many similar films of the time, and the story of a man being pranked by the devil is wholly secondary to the main focus of the movie: gratuitous nudity. My Tale is Hot is a sexploitation film—a type of B-movie which alludes to sex and nudity as a selling point, though the content is not necessarily explicitly pornographic and actual sex may or may not be shown. These films, many of which were made in the 1950s through the 1970s on a very low budget in many different countries, feature sin, vulgar images, and extremely tenuous plots. The acting is sometimes so bad it’s good. Sexploitation films, needless to say, have a cult following.

Sexploitative and pornographic films have been around since the 1910s, but a new spin on the genre emerged in the 1950s and '60s with supernatural elements. Technology allowed for more home-taught directors, like Russ Meyer, who became popular for his campy humor and big-breasted stars in titles he directed, like Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, Mondo Topless and The Immoral Mr. Teas. Some actors and actresses who got their start in cult and fringe films, including sexploitation pictures, continued to hone their skills and appear almost exclusively on the cult circuit.

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Since 1930 in the U.S., cinema was largely regulated by the Hays Code, a non-legally binding yet influential industry standard that banned “lustful kissing” and nudity, among other things. While films were considered art under the First Amendment by the late 1950s in the United States, sexploitation filmmakers were creatively attempting to skirt commercially regulated cinema in a just-barely legal way. Many got away with their content because of their obscurity; often these films were not shown in regular theaters and were not advertised to the larger public.

Among these nude films, the devil was often a character or plot device amid excuses to get the female protagonist naked. In My Tale is Hot, Lucifer learns of the “most faithful husband alive,” which, of course, incites the devil to convert this man to a life of sin. “I’m not getting any converts like I used to, not a good man gone wrong in months,” says the devil, who sits with his devil-wife and their naked, silver-painted attending ladies, who are used as furniture. Lucifer’s wife dares him to try to convert the world’s best husband, and oh does Lucifer try. The plot, to say the least, is rather loose. From then on out increasingly more of the movie is devoted to naked women, women in lingerie, and the eventual corruption of the husband.

There were many kinds of plots for sexploitation films, from sexy female aliens on Venus to erotic adventures in Siberia; many hundreds of these fly-by-night projects were made. Prior to the late 1960s, these movies were often shown in portable movie theaters that hit the road with their traveling sin-filled stories, according to James Traub’s book The Devil's Playground. The movies also found a home in city spaces, which gave way to 1970s grindhouse theaters that often welcomed exploitation films and porn. Traub writes that “video peeps” became one of the most popular ways to view these movies in the 1960s, which entailed theaters and shops in cities like New York building booths for private viewings. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling expanded the First Amendment in 1952 to consider even explicit films an art. This made all films fully legal to make and show, though state and local ordinances could still regulate where and when people saw risqué films. As a result, the genre continued to grow.

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Since the devil himself represents sin, movies including the devil may also let the viewer poke fun at the idea that he or is about to be part of that sin as a voyeur partaking in the appeal of cheap thrills. Of course, some fans love sexploitation films specifically because of their campy nature; one of the titles in the genre is The Horrible Sexy Vampire.

Sexploitation films seem “to promise so much, and yet can never live up to the images they suggest to the imagination,” wrote Jeffrey Sconce in Sleaze Artists. “What film, after all, could live up to the mental theater evoked by the words Nude for Satan?” Salacious photos and paintings on movie posters “translate in theater into brief and badly exposed moments of nudity,” Sconce wrote, but that’s also what made them conform to legal and social standards, and not always exactly porn per se. Sconce added that generally all films that exploit the body “remain so central to trash film culture. Nowhere is the gap dividing internal fantasy from public representation so profound.”

At some points, the line between sexploitation and sexually exploitative horror movies blurred: sexploitation movies sometimes mirrored popular horror cinema and adopted aspects of popular movie plots, especially those that had to do with Lucifer. The movie Satan’s Slave from 1976, for example, is supposedly about a girl caught up in her uncle’s devil cult and the dead returning to haunt her as a result—which, of course, involves her being tied up naked. The Toy Box, a horror-murder sex-filled movie from 1971, adds gratuitous violence and cannibalism into the mix.

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And, of course, some rode the coattails of more popular, major devil-centric movies. “Several sexploitation films released during this period evoked violent and sexual transgressions featured in The Exorcist,” wrote Christopher Olson and CarrieLynn Reinhard in Possessed Women, Haunted States. Such films were sometimes given multiple titles and originally were imported from other countries, including one film marketed as Possessed by the Devil, Beyond the Darkness, and Devil’s Female.

The devil and sex continued to appear together in sexploitation and B-movies for decades, and the sexploitation genre remains alive with titles like the 2008 film Zombie Strippers to assault any fine film sensibilities you might have. If you’re intrigued—and if the poor acting and wonky plots don’t get in your way, remember that you have a long line of old-time dirty filmmakers to thank.

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rraszews
22 days ago
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Fun fact: Zombie Strippers is a surprisingly faithful adaptation of Ionnesco's existentialist play "Rhinoceroses"

Why People From Manchester Are Mancunians, Not Manchesterians

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Here’s a very fun game to play: Take a list of cities with unusual demonyms—that’s the category of words describing either a person from a certain place, or a property of that place, like New Yorker or Italian—and ask people to guess what the demonym is. Here are some favorites I came up with, with the help of historical linguist Lauren Fonteyn, a lecturer at the University of Manchester. It’s tilted a bit in favor of the U.K. for two reasons. First is that Fonteyn lives and works there, and second is that the U.K. has some excellently weird ones. The answer key is at the bottom.

  1. Glasgow, Scotland
  2. Newcastle, England
  3. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  4. Liverpool, England
  5. Leeds, England
  6. Wolverhampton, England
  7. Madagascar
  8. Halifax, Canada
  9. Barbados

Demonyms are personal and vital to our conceptions of ourselves. Few things are more important to our identities than where we’re from. This explains why people invariably feel the need to correct anyone who gets their demonym wrong. “It's understudied but it's kind of important,” says Fonteyn, who is originally from Belgium. “I moved to Manchester and had no idea what the demonym was. And if you do it wrong, people will get very, very mad at you.”

The demonym for people from or properties of Manchester is “Mancunian,” which dates back to the Latin word for the area, “Mancunium.” It is, like the other fun demonyms we’re about to get into, irregular, which means it does not follow the accepted norms of how we modify place names to come up with demonyms. In other words, someone has to tell you that the correct word is “Mancunian” and not “Manchesterian.”


A major problem with the entire system of demonyms is that it’s almost entirely ad-hoc, a mess of words cobbled from mostly archaic languages. Typically, though not in every case, the way we turn a place name into a demonym, at least in English, is with a suffix. The suffix -an or -ian, as in “Canadian,” “Mexican,” and “German,” comes from Latin. The suffix -er comes from, linguists think, Proto-Germanic, the Northern European precursor to Germanic languages like English, German, and Dutch. Originally it was something like -ware or -waras, but eventually was turned into the -er suffix we see in “New Yorker,” Londoner,” and “Berliner.”

Other less common ones came from other sources. From Old French we get -ois, as in “Québécois” and “Seychellois.” Also from Old French is -ese, as in “Chinese” and “Portuguese.” Proto-Germanic also gave us -ish, as in “Scottish” and “Swedish.” From Ancient Greek we get -ite, which is found in “Brooklynite” and the somewhat irregular “Muscovite” (that’s someone from Moscow, Russia).

Demonyms usually end in a suffix like that, but there are hardly any rules as to which place names get which suffixes. Sometimes there’s some historical connection with the base language of one of the suffixes—“Venetian,” say, because Venice has Roman and Latin roots—but sometimes there isn’t. Sometimes we pick a certain suffix to make a demonym easier to say, as in “Peruvian,” because nobody wants to struggle to say “Peruer.” Sometimes we don’t! The demonym for Dubai is “Dubaiite.”

And things get way worse than that, because not only does the suffix not necessarily follow any rules, but the actual place name itself often changes, as in Manchester’s switch to Mancunian.

From our list, let’s take Glasgow, which boasts the irregular demonym “Glaswegian.” “That one is formed through something we call analogy,” says Fonteyn. Analogy in the linguistic sense is sort of like your classic SAT question analogy: as A is to B, Y is to Z. Let’s take the words “drive” and “dive” for example. The past tense of “drive” has always been slightly unusual in that it’s “drove.” But the past tense of “dive” is not supposed to be unusual—it’s supposed to be “dived.” But because “drive” and “dive” sound so similar, Americans saw an analogy between those two words, and invented the word “dove.”

Glasgow is similar. The demonym “Glaswegian” comes, linguists think, as an analogy of the Irish city of Galway. “Glasgow” and “Galway” are two fairly similar looking words. And Galway has long had its own analogy with another similar-looking word: Norway. Galway’s demonym is “Galwegian,” as an analogy of “Norwegian.” So “Glaswegian” is a sort of a photocopy-of-a-photocopy of Norwegian. Not something anyone could ever guess!

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Other irregular U.K. demonyms come from ancient names of those places. “Mancunian” is a well-known one, but Fonteyn actually played the “guess the demonym” game with me about a weirder one: Leeds. I thought about it, realized I had never heard it, so took a guess. Leedsian?

Nope. It’s “Leodensian,” which comes from an old Celtic language.

Another good one is the city of Newcastle upon Tyne, usually just referred to as Newcastle. Newcastle is an extremely interesting demonym place because it actually has two demonyms. A more formal one in the same general spirit as “Leodensian” is the demonym “Novocastrian,” basically a direct Latin translation of “Newcastle.”

But the much more common demonym for people from Newcastle is so wildly irregular that it fits into a totally new section of demonyms. These I have decided to call the reappropriated demonyms. And Newcastle’s is “Geordie.”


Reappropriated demonym is not an official linguistic term, because demonyms, being understudied, are lacking some terminology. But it’s a useful categorization for some of the most fun demonyms out there. “The ones with the really weird demonyms for some reasons tend to originate in places that are talked about with a certain scorn,” says Fonteyn. These are poorer places, or places with large immigrant populations, or places with lower levels of education, or even just places with specific, unique dialects. They are, basically, the places that New Yorkers and Londoners—you’ll note that those are not irregular demonyms—mock.

Once these places are established as somewhere that is mocked, and mocked in a specific way, those terms might get reappropriated. If those jerk elitists in the big city think we’re all dirtbags, by god, we’re going to call ourselves the Dirtbaggers! Dirtbaggians!

The precise history of “Geordie” isn’t exactly clear, but most sources, including the Oxford English Dictionary, pin it to the fact that in 19th-century Newcastle, as the city grew during the Industrial Revolution, there were, um, many people named George. So people outside the city, in stereotyping and generally being rude to the Novocastrians, referred to them as “George.” As the British love to do, eventually it got a diminutive—that “-ie”—added onto the end and the second “g” was inexplicably replaced with a “d.”

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Eventually the Novocastrians reclaimed the demonym and took pride in being called a bunch of Georges. Fonteyn ran a couple of collated searches for me in which she looked at the type of adjective most associated with different demonyms in news stories and on Twitter. What she found was that Geordie, today, is informal, but can be used for both positive and negative things. You can be a “proud” Geordie, or a “true” Geordie, or an “adopted” Geordie. Or you can be “shirtless,” “partying,” or “naughty.” (The word “Geordie” became known worldwide thanks to the U.K.’s Jersey Shore knockoff, Geordie Shore. So it’s not always positive.) But on the whole, says Fonteyn, “tentatively I would say that it’s been properly reappropriated.”

There are examples of reappropriated demonyms all over the world, and usually these are the ones with the best backstories. There’s “Yinzer,” in Pittsburgh: Pittsburghers are one of the many groups to have come up with a solution to English’s lack of a second-person plural. But instead of going with “y’all,” as did the American South, Pittsburghers created their very own: “yinz,” a corruption of “you ones.” The word is so associated with the city of Pittsburgh and nowhere else that Pittsburghers have taken pride in it and become known as Yinzers.

In Barbados, the particular dialect of English spoken in the country also changed the demonym. The regular demonym of Barbados is “Barbadian,” but that’s hardly used at all; instead, they go with “Bajan.” This is not pronounced “bah-han,” as it would be in the Mexican state of Baja California; instead, it rhymes with “Cajun,” and is a corruption of the last three syllables of “Barbadian.” See it? Badian becomes Bajan.

Another example: the people of Liverpool. Most people are probably aware of the formal demonym for people from Liverpool, if only because of the Beatles: “Liverpudlian.” (This seems to have no more complicated root than being sort of a pun. Pool, puddle. It’s not that funny but it stuck around.) But Liverpudlians have their own version of “Yinzer” and “Geordie.” Theirs is “Scouse.”

Scouse comes from a cheap fisherman’s stew of the same name. (The word “scouse” seems to come from a word of unknown origin, “lobscouse.” Scouse does not include lobster.) Liverpool is a working-class fishing town, and scouse is the iconic dish of the dockworkers. In scorn, other people would refer to people from Liverpool as “Scousers.” Eventually it was reappropriated, though not entirely; it is still sometimes used in kind of punny British way. For example, "scouse brows" is a way Liverpudlian women do their eyebrows, plucking out all the hairs and drawing the eyebrows back in with a marker. Scouse, according to Fonteyn’s indexing on Twitter, it is not nearly as reclaimed as “Geordie,” in that it is still often used in a scornful way.

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Even currently non-marginalized cities sometimes have demonyms that come from reappropriation. Ever wonder where the word “Yankee” for a New Yorker comes from? The most likely history comes from New York’s days as New Amsterdam, full of recent Dutch immigrants. At the time, two of the most popular names for Dutch folks in the New World were Jan and Kees. If you wanted to mock those Dutch jerks out in New Amsterdam, you might refer to them—regardless of their actual name—as a bunch of Jan Kees. Jan, of course, is pronounced “yahn,” and was eventually Anglicized into “Yankee.”


One of the most interesting demonym quirks is associated with the Ancient Greek suffix, -ite. Unlike the reappropriated demonyms, the regular ones, like Italian or Welsh, are typically neutral. The word “Italian” carries no positive or negative connotation in itself—it is simply a factual way of describing the people or a property of a place. But -ite is not neutral; it is, weirdly, negative.

“This is extremely puzzling,” says Fonteyn. The Oxford English Dictionary lists the -ite ending as “slightly contemptuous,” and Wiktionary declares it “sometimes pejorative.” I took a look through Twitter myself to see about that.

Tweets using the demonym “New Yorker” are not notably positive or negative. But “Manhattanite” and “Brooklynite,” both of which have no particular reason to mean anything besides “person or property of this place,” are both strikingly negative. Words associated with “Manhattanite” include “wealthy,” “pampered,” “gilded,” “lily white,” and “entitled.” The same feeling of rich snobbery happens with “Londonite.” The more historically working-class -ite places, like Brooklynite and New Jerseyite, take the same forms as the reappropriated demonyms: a lot of words such as “proud,” “true,” and “native.” This does not happen with other regular suffixes such as, say, “Bostonian” or “Parisian,” big cities whose demonyms are primarily neutral.

I have no idea why -ite is weird. But not understanding something about demonyms seems, even after studying them, to be pretty par for the course.

ANSWER KEY

  1. Glaswegian
  2. Novocastrian or Geordie
  3. Pittsburgher or Yinzer
  4. Liverpudlian or Scouser
  5. Leodensian
  6. Wulfrunian
  7. Malagasy
  8. Haligonian
  9. Bajan
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rraszews
46 days ago
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Surprised there's no mention of New Zealand. I imagine there's a "formal" one too, but I've never heard anyone use any demonym for New Zealand other than 'Kiwi'
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