March 03, 2006

Playing for the Dominican, skiing in Czech, working in Saudi

New York Mets pitcher Pedro Martinez is nursing a sore toe, so he has opted against playing for the Dominican Republic in this month's inaugural World Baseball Classic. The AP quotes Pedro's reasoning:

"It would be totally unfair to the Dominican. I haven't even thrown a breaking ball yet. ... I actually reported early to try to do something. That was my main goal, to play for the Dominican. They know I would like to be there, but I cannot do it."

Pedro's shortening of "the Dominican Republic" to "the Dominican" is not particularly unusual among Dominicans living and working in the United States. Coverage of the leadup to the WBC has included discussions by players and reporters alike about who exactly would be "playing for the Dominican." And in case there was any confusion over whether "the Dominican" is elliptical for "the Dominican team," there are also many references to people going "to the Dominican" or doing things "in the Dominican," so it's definitely a toponym. Think of it as the converse of President Bush's "Great British" problem: it's what happens when a country has a straightforward toponymic adjective in English but lacks a one-word nominal form. (Well, Dominicans do sometimes use a single-word toponym: Quisqueya or Kiskeya, from the Taíno name for the island of Hispaniola, but that's not widely known among non-Dominicans.)

I can think of two other cases where a nation's toponymic adjective gets informally pressed into service as a noun as well (though neither uses the word "the" as in "the Dominican"). One is "Czech," which according to a recent article in the Prague Daily Monitor has been suggested as a one-word English designation for the Czech Republic. For instance, during the Winter Olympics, players for the national hockey team wore the word "Czech" on their uniforms. That's a symptom of the Czech Republic's difficulties in finding a snappy toponym ever since the official breakup of Czechoslovakia thirteen years ago. Even in the Czech language, the officially sanctioned appellation Česko has had decidedly mixed success, though it seems to have gained more acceptance over the past few years. Meanwhile, the English equivalent selected by the Czech Terminological Commission in 1993, "Czechia," has never really caught on. Neither has "Czechlands" or "Czecho," two other alternatives mentioned in the Prague Daily Monitor article. So it's not too surprising that "Czech" should step into the gap (even though the Wikipedia entry for "Names of the Czech Republic" sternly says that those who use "Czech" as the English name for the country do so "wrongly"). Michael Farris, a longtime resident of Poland, reluctantly admitted on the sci.lang newsgroup that this is his preferred informal usage:

My very inelegant usage is:

the Czech Republic (formal)
Czech (informal)
as in:
I haven't been much in Czech, just Prague.
They went to Czech to go skiing.
I'm not crazy about it but I've heard others use it as well.
If I saw/heard more people using Czechia I would too, but til then ...

The other case that springs to mind is "Saudi," sometimes used as shorthand for "Saudi Arabia." This is a bit different from stripping "Republic" from "(the) Dominican/Czech Republic," as "Arabia" is itself a perfectly serviceable toponym prefixed by an adjective derived from the ruling House of Saud. But using "Arabia" as a one-word name for "Saudi Arabia" doesn't really fly, since that usually refers to the entire peninsula. (Conflating "Saudi Arabia" with "Arabia" would annoy Yemenis, Omanis, Emiratis, Qataris, Bahrainis, and Kuwaitis about as much as calling the U.S. "America" bugs Canadians. On the other hand, opponents of the House of Saud often refer only to "Arabia" so as to delegitmize the Saudi regime.) The use of "Saudi" for "Saudi Arabia" seems to have been popularized by military types and expats working there, though it has spread beyond these circles, for instance to headline writers. Here are some recent examples indicating its common use in headlines both locally in the Gulf states and internationally:

  • "28 survivors of ferry tragedy land in Saudi" (The Peninsula [Qatar]/AFP, 2/5/06)
  • "Be patient, UK PM's wife tells women in Saudi" (Gulf Times [Qatar], 2/13/06)
  • "No inflation pressure in Saudi, says minister " (TradeArabia [UAE], 2/16/06)
  • "NRK on death row set to return from Saudi" (The Peninsula [Qatar] 2/19/06)
  • "Pinoy workers seek immediate repatriation from Saudi" (Sun Star [Philippines], 2/19/06)
  • "Two Indians held in Saudi to be freed" (The Hindu [India], 2/22/06)
  • "Al-Qaida threatens more attacks in Saudi" (Houston Chronicle/AP, 2/25/06)
  • "Oil disaster averted in Saudi" (UPI, 2/27/06)

The article from the Philippines about Pinoy (i.e., Filipino) migrant workers in Saudi Arabia is one of many such examples. As an informal label, "Saudi" can evidently have an even broader denotation among Filipino workers. I came across a 1997 article in Asiaweek that says that "Saudi" is "the overseas workers' term for all Arab states."

By far the largest proportion of online discussion about "going to Saudi" or coming "back from Saudi" derives from Americans who have worked in the Gulf, particularly those stationed there in the military. I would surmise that the usage was first popularized during Desert Storm, as it has the feel of military shorthand. Even before the war when Operation Desert Shield was getting underway, the toponym "Saudi" cropped up in military use: an Army Times headline from Nov. 26, 1990 reads, "We're Going to Saudi."

[Update #1: Dane Bell reports that he has heard his mother using "Saudi" for "Saudi Arabia" for at least the last 20 years when describing her life there 40 years ago. So expatriate usage of "Saudi" clearly extends back long before the Gulf War. Stephen Jones corroborates this, recalling that "Saudi" was in standard use among expats before the war. Graham Curran can date it back to 1974 from personal experience.]

[Update #2: Comments continue to pour in...

From Ben Sadock:

I myself have been hurting for a way to refer to the Czech Republic since 1993, and I've noticed that a lot of people seem to have settled on Czechoslovakia even when they know better. Others have started saying "Czech Republic" with no article, a la Ukraine, (which I also have trouble saying; I feel like I'm making fun of Slavs by omitting articles.) In any case, this is an interesting phenomenon. I think your Google searches do a decent job of showing that people (Dominicans among them) are referring to the country, and not just the team as "the Dominican," but they aren't doing so due to a lack of alternatives (or the obscurity of Quisqueya). I live near a large Dominican community, and they in fact do have a casual way of referring to their erstwhile home: the D. R., modelled perhaps on P. R. for Puerto Rico.
Me, I'm looking forward to the day when we start calling the Netherlands "the Nethers."

From Richard Hershberger:

I am, in my spare time, a 19th century baseball history geek. In your discussion of "playing for the Dominican" you discuss, and dismiss, the possibility that this is an elliptical form of "playing for the Dominican team". You are undoubtedly correct. It would be virtually unheard of in present-day English. But as a possibly interesting aside, in the 19th century that would have been a standard usage (substituting "club" for "team").
A common pattern of club names was, for example, "The Athletic Base Ball Club". In journalistic usage a player might be said to be playing "for the Athletics" as in modern usage, but also might be "playing for the Athletic Club" or the elliptical form "playing for the Athletic". Club names were routinely in the singular, though the plural might be used as appropriate.
Nowadays this usage is unheard of. The modern Oakland team uses both "Athletics" and "A's" but never "Athletic". I wonder if that form still appears in legal contexts, but I don't know. Modern team names are almost always in the plural, and when something other than a count noun is used (e.g. the NBA's "Jazz") this is criticized.

From Luis Rodrigo Gallardo Cruz:

> Conflating "Saudi Arabia" with "Arabia" would annoy Yemenis, Omanis,
> Emiratis, Qataris, Bahrainis, and Kuwaitis about as much as calling the
> U.S. "America" bugs Canadians.

Hey! It bugs us LatinAmericans too, you know!

From Jacob Lubliner:

Actually, Dominicans do use, among themselves, a simple (if not exactly single-word) toponym for their country; it's Santo Domingo. True, it's the name of the capital, but so are México, Guatemala and Panamá. The adjunct "City" is an anglicism, and its equivalent "Ciudad de ..." is used only rarely; people resort to other tricks for distinguishing capital from country.
The Czechs' problem with naming their country, in their own language or in others, seems to stem from the fact that Čechý (and its adjective český) historically refers only to that part of the Czech lands that non-Slavs know as "Bohemia" (or some version thereof). In Russian, Bohemia is called Chekhiya, which creates a bit of a problem for English Czechia, but Tschechien seems to have become well established in German. I try to use "Czechia" as much as possible, raised eyebrows be damned.
Now, as far as I know, in informal Arabic Saudi Arabia is usually called simply as-Sa'udiyeh, a form that has the advantage of being either an adjective or a noun. But whether Yemenis etc. would be annoyed by SA being called simply "Arabia" is questionable; I haven't heard of Algerians, Tunisians or Mauritanians complaining about Morocco's Arabic name, which is al-Maghrib. As I'm sure you know, synecdoche is quite common in toponymy.

From Andrew Gray:

I note the discussion on countries referred to by only part of their name. As a datapoint, I'm Scottish, and used to referring to Ireland as "the Republic".
This usage, I think, is picked up from my grandmother, who was brought up in Belfast just after the south became independent; I can't remember offhand if my other relatives there use it. I wonder if this just represents another case of the Saudi situation - the name has a geographic and a political part, but shortening it to the geographical name would be either confusing or inappropriate, so the political one gets used when people need a shorthand.
An interesting thought, this matter of terminology. Is it - or will it be - common in West Africa for people to be "from Ivoire"?

Posted by Benjamin Zimmer at March 3, 2006 12:35 AM