Replacing Exonyms

Scott Stantis has illustrated once again how educational some current comic strips can be. His current story arc takes place in Guam. (Guam’s a lovely United States Territory where my family and I lived for two wonderful years in the nineties.)

The story line involves a presidential candidate who has taken refuge there and was asked his opinion about formally changing the island’s name. (There is a movement seeking to replace “Guam” with “Guahon,” the island’s name in the Chamorro language.) You can follow the entire series at Prickly City.

As the panel shows, the (rabbit) senator is unaware that “Guam” is actually an exonym. As such, there is a valid reason to consider its replacement.

Kids today are growing up knowing prominent international cities by names that still seem “foreign” to many of us adults. Beijing has been around just long enough to sound right. But it will always be remembered as Peking to some. Mumbai, as a more recent adjustment, rings alien in the ears of those who still think of the most populous city in India as Bombay.

Still, it makes sense to attempt to refer to cities and nations as the residents of those locales do. For one thing, it is a sign of respect.

And this kind of transition is not an example of thoughtless or random “verbicide” which C.S. Lewis described in “Studies in Words.” There he wrote:

Verbicide, the murder of a word, happens in many ways. Inflation is one of the commonest; those who taught us to say awfully for “very,” tremendous for “great,” sadism for “cruelty,” and unthinkable for “undesirable,” were verbicides.

Replacing exonyms is meaningful to those it directly affects. And it is little more than an inconvenience to the rest of us. So, I’m in favor of it.

Just as I’m always in favor of comic strips that educate as well as entertain!

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