July 22, 2006

Rice to Middle on Sunday, U2 to Far in December?

The headline on a Reuters wire story dated Fri Jul 21, 2006 12:23pm ET: "Rice to Middle on Sunday". That's short for "Middle East", as the story makes clear. Is this is an editor's slip, or a standard way of talking in some circles, or a new trend? And if some people use this shortened form outside of headlines, do they add the definite article ("Well, I'm off to (the) Middle again tomorrow"). I don't know; if you do, please tell me.

[Update -- Ben Zimmer writes:

I've never heard or seen "Middle" as elliptical for "Middle East". I've tried all sorts of clever Web searches to find another example and have come up empty. So I think the headline writer simply omitted "East" by accident.

An anonymous source observed that newswires have traditionally been rather sloppy about headlines, in the interests of quick turn-around of copy, since in the old (pre-web) days they could trust editors to fix them up before publication.

And Andreas Amman writes:

I have never seen Middle used for Middle East, not even in a headline. But I can tell you that the German equivalent "Naher Osten" (lit. 'near east') got contracted to "Nahost". I suspect it happened in compounds first, e.g. "unser Nahost-Korrespondent". I was surprised to see that "nach Nahost" gets 81,700 Ghits - not a lot less than "in den Nahen Osten" with 193,000. "Nahost" behaves like a toponym, hence no definite article in German.

As far as I can tell, "Nahost"/"Naher Osten" denotes the same as Middle East does - whenever I hear "Mittlerer Osten", I get the feeling that it was translated 1:1 from an English-speaking source.

Many thanks to you and the other residents of Language Log Plaza for keeping such a brilliant blog! We need things we can smile about to remedy the ghastly effects of all the Ü sounds we have to produce every day...


Posted by Mark Liberman at July 22, 2006 08:52 AM