Friday, February 10

Turin/Torino and other toponomastic frustrations

I posted about this when I first noticed NBC making a push for the Torino Olympics in their advertising.

The latest news on the lexico-geographical front is that, according to a poll posted on, 73% of 28,953 respondents (as of the time of writing) claim to refer to the city as Torino rather than Turin.

I am baffled. Flummoxed. Dumbstruck. Six months ago, did 73% of Americans even know that the city hitherto known as Turin even had a different name in Italian? Could these people give the Italian names for Venice or Florence? I have no explanation for this, save that perhaps these respondents don't know that Torino is the same place as Turin.

I have been trying to track down an article I read several years ago on the pernicious habit we have in English of updating our pronunciations of cities and countries to conform to the local argot, and how no other language or culture makes any such effort to do the same with English and American place names. I haven't found it yet, but I will post a link to it when I do. In the meantime, I found an old Nordlinger article from 2002, which makes the same points about Turin, Beijing, and even Athens as my earlier post. And this was almost four years before the NBC advertising push (though he traces this cultural abomination to Katie Couric at the close of the Salt Lake City games--no surprise there).

Reading his article, I shudder to think what would happen if Bangkok was ever awarded an Olympics. Or "Krungthepmahanakhonamonrattanakosinmahintharaayuthayamahadilokphopnoppharatratchathaniburiromudomratchan iwetmahasathanamonpimanawatansathitsakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit," as the locals would have it.