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Words, March 15

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People who live in Little Rock, Arkansas, know that the question “What do you call somebody from ____?” can be difficult. “Arkansan” is the (more or less) official term for someone from The Natural State, though occasionally one hears “Arkansawyer.” There is no official term for a resident of Little Rock, but the Arkansas Times uses “Little Rocker,” and when the Times talks, people listen.

Bryan A. Garner devotes several pages to these “denizen labels” in his “Modern American Usage.” Some are surprising. I'd never thought of someone from Albany, N.Y., being called an “Albanian.” On the other hand, I'd always believed that someone from Michigan was a “Michigander.” Many prefer this term, Garner says, but “Michiganian” is official. If you hail from Independence, Mo., you're an “Independent,” regardless of your politics. Someone from Cambridge — Massachusetts or England — is a “Cantabrigian.” But a person from Birmingham, England, is a “Brummie,” and I doubt that works in Alabama.

“The idea eventually became a reality in 1992 in the form of Oxford American, which boldly asserted itself as the ‘Southern magazine of good writing.' It didn't arrive quietly but instead was a noisome volume that demanded attention.”

Ernst Schrader of Eureka Springs suggests this is a bad way to get attention. Noisome means “offensive or disgusting, as an odor.”

Reports on U.S. Rep. John (Congo Jack) Boozman's adventures in Africa made me wonder if he'd ever bagged a cameleopard. That's an old name for a giraffe, or so I thought, derived, I also thought, from the notion that a giraffe resembles a camel in some respects, a leopard in others. But while researching the congressman's record with cameleopards, I made a startling discovery: The creature's name contains no “leopard,” just as team contains no “I.” The actual spelling is camelopard, and it's not pronounced camel-leopard but ka-MEL-a-pard. I still think the name has something to do with camels and leopards, but the Random House is silent on this point.

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