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story.lead_photo.caption A Canada goose twists as it preens before heading into the water at Lakewood Lake No. 1 in North Little Rock. (Democrat-Gazette file photo)

A toponym is a name that comes from a place.

For example, "a New York minute."

The phrase is supposed to mean a quick burst of time, as if time in New York goes by so quickly that you can't believe it. In a nice twist, it was coined outside of New York.

The Dictionary of American Regional English says a Texan named Ken Weaver defined it in his 1984 book Texas Crude. He wrote: "Immediately. Equates to a nanosecond, or that infinitesimal blink of time in New York after the traffic light turns green and before the ol' boy behind you honks his horn."

My experience with spending time in New York has been much different. Whenever I've driven near the New York area, traffic made each minute seem like an eternity.

Jersey wall

The Jersey wall is that scary concrete barrier placed on roads all over the country to separate traffic lanes. The main function is to redirect a car that might smash into it, to stop it from crashing into oncoming traffic.

It was first used in California, but the barrier's design was improved in New Jersey. I guess that's what's required for naming rights.

Canada goose

This seems simple enough. It's a goose. Oh, and it's from Canada? In truth, the Canada goose turns up its beak at the concept of borders. It's a North American bird. Many people tend to call it "Canadian goose," but that's incorrect.

The ever-helpful Merriam-Webster dictionary notes in its entry that Canada goose rhymes with "hypotenuse."

This brings me to Canada Dry, a maker of carbonated drinks but best known for ginger ale. The owner invented ginger ale in Toronto in 1904 and gave it the catchy name "Canada Dry Pale Dry Ginger Ale." The soda made its way to the United States in 1919, where it made a good mixer for the liquor that people made at home during Prohibition.

Long Island iced tea

This is a killer drink made with five kinds of alcohol. With a harmless splash of Coke mixed in, it looks and tastes like iced tea but can sneak up on you.

The "Long Island Iced Tea" website says the potent drink was, indeed, invented on Long Island at the Oak Beach Inn in the 1970s. The site goes so far as to provide a photo of the drink at the molecular level.

Idaho potatoes

I am no potato expert, but the Idaho russet is a distinctive tuber. The state website acknowledges that Russets are grown in other states, but suggests that those others are wannabes. The state has a potato commission, a potato museum and much more. The Idaho potato even has a book written about it, Aristocrat in Burlap: A History of the Potato in Idaho.

California roll

This is a roll that sometimes ushers novices into the sushi world. It has avocado, cucumber and crab (or sometimes fake crab, ingeniously renamed "krab"). It was invented in the Little Tokyo area of Los Angeles. Apparently, it's not popular in Japan.

Florida room

This is a room with big windows that allow people to enjoy the sunlight or warmth while still staying inside. Mosquitoes hate these things, particularly at night, because they're jealous of the unattainable humans inside.

I'm nearly certain it's legal to have a Florida room even if you live in a different state. It's more of a Southern term. The rooms are also called sunrooms or, if you live in fancier neighborhoods, conservatories.

While I was researching this, I learned that the people in Arizona call it an Arizona room. I'll bet the biggest difference is the amount of humidity hovering.

Bunk or bunkum

This was my favorite toponym, but the spelling is not original.

In 1820, Felix Walker, a congressman from North Carolina, made a long, babble-filled speech to stop a vote on the Missouri Compromise.

Walker said his speech was for his constituents in Buncombe County. From then on, "Buncombe" became synonymous with nonsense. Many people instead use the spelling "bunkum" or "bunk."

Sources:,,, Merriam-Webster,,,,,,,

Style on 12/24/2018

Print Headline: WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE! A name, a place, a toponym


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