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Demonyms and our fluid sense of place

Identifiers that used to anchor characteristics to communities may be slipping away in an increasingly unrooted world.

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No day is a complete bust if I make the acquaintance of a new word. So it was the other day when I ran across the term for the residents of Beijing

Can that be? I was skeptical until a colleague whipped out a reference to confirm it. Further checking after deadline turned up Beijingers spread thinly but widely, used by top-tier news organizations around the English-speaking world and on ChinaDaily.com, too.

Still further research turned up for instance, to refer to a resident of Shanghai. It does suggest an interesting combination of bagpipes and chopsticks, doesn't it? are inhabitants of Newcastle – either Newcastle upon Tyne, in England, or the Australian city of Newcastle, in New South Wales. Both are coal cities, so coals can be carried to Newcastle in either the Northern or Southern Hemisphere.

All these are examples of terms to refer to the people of a particular place.

Many demonyms are pretty straightforward. You just have to know whether to add (Bostonian) or, occasionally, the mineralogical-sounding (Seattleite), or just the simple (New Yorker) ending. (The surprise of I think, is that it's so much like or )

Other demonyms, though, seem almost like one-word folktales.

There's Hoosier, to denote a resident of Indiana – and that really is the term. "Indianan" or whatever just won't fly. The people of Oklahoma are Sooners. Connecticut has its complicated stories about Yankee traders so clever they could sell wooden nutmegs. Hence the Nutmeg State and Nutmeggers.

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