City Names

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed Dec 8 18:34:24 UTC 1999

Mike Calvert <mcalvert at> wrote:

>Surely "Nawlins" is strictly pronunciation, not clipping. Just as in Texas,
>where I resided briefly, a "tar" is something you put on an automobile,
>whereas up North it's something you spread on a road or a roof, and "rats,"
>which in the North are small rodents with long, pointed tails, in Texas are
>something guaranteed to all by the Constitution, e.g., "It's mah rat to
>carry a handgun."
>Joseph McCollum wrote:
>> Also I've seen and heard "Nawlins" for "New Orleans,"

I think the problem here is that clipping ("Cincy", "Indy", "(The)
'Ville/'Burgh") is one form of least-effort-related reduction; others are
acronymy ("NATO"), initialism ("L.A."), and the destressing/vowel
reduction/vowel deletion phenomena exemplified in "Nawlins", "Clumps" (for
the capital of Ohio) or more subtly in "Wuh-SKAN-s'n", "M'SKEEg'n", or
"@-STRAL-yuh" (all pronounced by locals with destressed initial vowels).
In some cases (e.g. "Frisco") it seems fairly arbitrary whether we use the
term clipping (or truncation) or not.  What they have in common is the
general tendency, first pointed out and illustrated by Hermann Paul and
especially George Kingsley Zipf over sixty years ago, for expressions used
frequently for familiar referents to become reduced in form.  This process,
which I like to refer to as "Familiarity breeds CNTNT", is just as much
reflected in "Nawlins" and "Clumps" (i.e. in the reduction in the number of
syllables) as spoken by the residents of each city as it is in true
clippings or acronyms.  One frequent motivation (besides the functional one
of maximizing economy) is the fact that we insiders (locals, coworkers,
whatever) can reduce (and often disguise) the name of what is familiar to
us and still know what we're referring to, while you outsiders may be left
in the dark (see army slang and cyberslang for two extreme cases). On rare
occasions, this motivation of social solidarity is correlated with the
rejection of specific reductions (e.g. "Frisco").  But in general it's
those who will be using the term most frequently who will have the occasion
to reduce its form; it's not an accident of regional dialect distribution
that "New Orleans" is pronounced with fewer syllables by its residents than
by residents of Cholmondeley (or however that place is spelled whose
residents call it "Chumley").

More information about the Ads-l mailing list