July 5:  Toponym Day

Today is the anniversary of the 1946 debut of a garment that sent shock waves across the world of fashion: the garment was the bikini. Paris fashion designer Louis Reard took the name for his design from a remote Pacific Ocean Atoll in the Marshall Islands, where the United States military was conducting the first peacetime detonations of nuclear bombs. So explosive was Reard’s skimpy design that it didn’t really catch on as acceptable beachwear until the 1960s.

The 1960 hit song “Itsy-Bitsy-Teenie-Weenie-Yellow-Polka-Dot Bikini,” along with many beach movies that targeted the youth audience, made the two piece bathing suit ubiquitous (1).

The word bikini is a classic example of a toponym:  a word that began as a geographical place name and evolved a new meaning based on something associated with that place.  The following are some examples of toponyms:

afghan

bourbon

angora

cashmere

cologne

denim

dollar

hamburger

jeans

marathon

mayonnaise

tuxedo

venetian blind

Today’s Challenge:  Wide World of Words
What are some examples of toponyms, and what are the stories behind their transformation from capitalized proper noun to lowercase common noun?
Research the definition and origin of a toponym, one listed above or some other one that you are curious about.  Write a brief report on its general meaning as a noun as well as the geographical source of its origin.
(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day: Bikini, we might argue, should have become a word to sum up the devastation that a nuclear weapon can cause; instead it became a word for a skimpy piece of beach attire. –Henry Hitchings

 

1 – Metcalf, Allan. The World in So Many Words. Boston, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999.

2 – Funk, Wilfred. Word Origins and Their Romantic Stories. New York: Gosset & Dunlap, 1950.