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Wednesday, December 10, 2003

What's in a (Place) Name? 

Listening to Marketplace last night, I got to wondering about specific place names that get used as synonyms for a larger community/industry. Immediately coming to mind are:Expanding the geographic size from a street to a city, and you get:The last of these parallels the usage of the political capital city of a county as shorthand for the government itself (i.e., "Washington is looking for allies in its war on terror," instead of the "the Bush administration ..." or "the U.S. State Department ..." or “Karl Rove ...").

Also, one time I was stopped by a police office for a rolling stop at a stop sign (this was in my youth; for years I have maintained a strict full stop policy) and he accused me of making a "California stop," I presume extending the image of California as a laidback place to describe a lax attitude on my part to traffic laws.

The capital-city-as-shorthand-for-the-government usage seems to be the most common one, and the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary gives as a second definition under Washington: "fig. The US government or any of its departments;" and as a fourth definition under Brussels: "The Commission of the European Community, with headquarters in Brussels." Hollywood and Wall Street also rate Shorter OED entries, but not the others (with the exception of Fleet Street) may be too U.S. specific for that dictionary.

So, the things I'm wondering are: 1) Is there a specific term for a place name that represents a larger community/industry? and 2) What other such place-names-as-synonyms-for-communities/industries are there?

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