By John Marciano, Bloomsbury Press, $18.00, 176 pages
“So in the end, what is toponymity? It, like more names, is not a word in dictionaries. Toponym, however, is. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “a place-name; a name given to a person or thing marking its place of origin”; the suffix -ity, meanwhile, comes from Latin, where it expressed a state or condition. The dictionary makers add that when -ity is applied in modern formulations, it produces “playful or pedantic nonce words.”
Here’s your chance to travel the world without leaving the comfort of your recliner. No map required. Instead, pick up John Bemelmans Marciano’s latest book Toponymity: An Atlas of Words and get ready to set sail through America’s and Europe’s linguistic history.
Marciano introduces a whole new way of looking at places and objects with his examples of toponymity, or the condition of being named after a geographic location. Here’s the ticket, or at least an example. Playa Daiquiri is a beach in Cuba. Coincidentally, it’s also a delicious cocktail blending rum, sugar and lime. The term first showed up in American pop culture in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1920s novel Toponymity: An Atlas of Words.
Progressing in alphabetical order, this language travel guide looks like a dictionary; parts of speech and a basic definition are listed. Then, Marciano gets to the heart of the book: the humorous and historical descriptions of a place. Interspersed amongst the text are blackline drawings by Marciano that add a fun visual element to the book.
As a word geek, I appreciate Marciano’s history lesson and humorous aspects, but there’s an undertone of the author’s opinion scattered throughout entries and it distracts from the book’s original intent.
Reviewed by LuAnn Schindler