When I wrote the first part of this post, I had a pretty good idea what the second part would contain. However, researching the more obscure ‑wegian words turned out to be more time consuming than first anticipated, as some of them do not appear in any dictionary. Perhaps, I should have expected that, since these demonyms are the product of linguistic creativity and not governed by any set rules.
To recap, in the first part, I asked myself: How many words end in ‑wegian? Where does this ending come from? And why does it lend itself to other seemingly unrelated place names so easily?
We left off half-way through the British place names, so without further ado:
The British and Hibernian sort (cont’d)
Place names ending in ‑wick
One place name ending in ‑wick takes the ending ‑wegian. This is surprising at first, because ‑wick is not the same as the ‑way of Norway and Galway. But perhaps an explanation can be found in the history of the place.
Lerwick, the biggest town of the Shetland Islands, is a Scandinavian settlement—much like Stornoway, which we discussed in the previous post. It was originally called something akin to Leirvík, meaning “mud bay” or “clay cove” in Old Norse2. In Scots, it is called Lerook, Lerrick among other names3. And in Scottish Gaelic, the name is Learaig or Liùrabhaig4, which both end in a g. So perhaps it is this similarity in sound combined with the scandinavian history that led to calling the inhabitants Lerwegians5.
But again, the ending ‑vík “bay” or “cove” is not the same as ‑vegr “way”, which gave us the original ‑wegian ending. So this is another creative neologism.
Place names ending in ‑gow and ‑ow
Glasgow was the place name that started this search. But with the Scottish Gaelic name Glaschu6, the Scots name Glesga7, and the Latin name Glascovium8 or Glasquum9, it makes little sense to call the inhabitants Glaswegians10. Naturally, they haven’t always been called that. The earlier word was Glasgower11, which takes a more traditional ending.
At first, I thought Glaswegian might be the result of a metathesis (i.e. swapping) of the g and w of Glasgow, giving us something like Glaswog, which could more easily take the ending in analogy with Norwegian. Of course, that would be a rather radical change, but we saw something similar with Galway, which came from Gaillimh → Galliva → Galvia. And it could very well be part of the slangy wordplay that seems to be present in all of these ‑wegian words. But, as it turns out, there was a transitional form: Glasgowegian13,14. This eliminates the need for any metathesis, as the end result can be explained as a simple shortening of the word—losing the unstressed syllable go.
A recent 2019 addition to the Oxford English Dictionary even gives us the word Weegie15 (also spelled Weedjie and Weedgie), which is a playful shortening of the word. Here, the ending has become such a central part of the identity that all parts of the place name can be left out entirely.
The Bow district in London can also take the ending. But it seems the word Bowegians has only been used once by George Bernard Shaw16—and he does not speak too kindly of them, so perhaps it is meant to be derogatory.
But a list of words that end in ‑wegian would not be complete without it, even if it is what the lexicographers of the Oxford English Dictionary call a nonce-word—a word made up for a particular occasion. It also proves, along with the word Glasgowegian, that a place name only needs to end with the letter w to qualify for having the suffix ‑wegian appended to it.
The Australian sort
As promised, we now go to the southern hemisphere to look at some truly novel uses of the ‑wegian suffix. At this point, all considerations of the origin of the place name, its neo-Latin name, and even the presence or lack of the letter w fail to explain the choice of suffix.
You might call a person from Brisbane a Brisbanian17 or a Brisbanite18. And you wouldn’t think that ‑wegian could be applicable here, seeing that the name’s ending bears no resemblance to the ‑way of Norway or even includes a w. But even then, you will sometimes find the word Briswegian19 used in reference to the people of the capital of Queensland, Australia.
The usual word for a person from Tasmania is Tasmanian20. But, as you can see from the dictionary entry, it can also refer to the (now extinct) native population of the island. As an adjective, it is attached to a few animals and plants native to Tasmania, such as the Tasmanian devil and the Tasmanian tiger.
For some reason or other, an inhabitant of Tasmania can also be called a Taswegian22. Again, this is a completely irregular use of the ending ‑wegian. But perhaps these two Australian demonyms use the ending to allude to a sense of Scandinavian-ness or Northern European-ness.
The slangy and playful nature of the words that end in ‑wegian makes it impossible to make a complete list of them. As we have seen, only a speaker’s linguistic creativity limits the number of words that could be made of this suffix.
To sum up, this ending has its origin in one place name of Old Norse origin, translated into Latin, and given the common demonymic suffix ‑an. That is to say: *Norðvegr → Noꞃðƿeᵹe → Norvegia/Norwegia → Norvegius/Norwegius → Norwegian. From this form, a couple of portmanteaux were created (Scandiwegian, Scowegian), but this does not make the ending productive. Then, a number of place names in the British Isles began to add the ending analogously (Gallowegian, Galwegian, Stornowegian). At this point, the ending seems to be an acceptable, if novel, way to make demonyms out of place names ending in ‑way. But I am not sure I would call it productive just yet.
Both of these leaps—from one word to a couple of portmanteaux and the formation of the analogous rule ‑way → ‑wegian—are great and unusual. But in my mind, the leap from a single rule to a few rules (‑wick → ‑wegian; ‑gow → ‑wegian; ‑w → ‑wegian) is the largest and weirdest. This is where the ending begins to show signs of productiveness.
And the Australian uses (Briswegian, Taswegian) take the ending into new territories (if you will excuse the pun), appending the suffix to any place name without regard for its origin or spelling. Now, I am sure that you could, in informal conversation, put the suffix onto any place name and be understood.
It has even taken on a life of its own as the words ’Wegian23 and Weegie, which are shortenings that leave only the ending of the word.
The reason for its popularity, I cannot know for sure, and it may be entirely coincidental that it has been picked up by so many. But I think a few things have helped it along: The unusual sound of the ending ‑wegian can have inspired wordsmiths to make amusing words out of it; and the association with Scandinavians, and later Scotsmen and Irishmen, can have brought along a mental image of a person from those areas (for better or for worse). In the case of Bowegian, Shaw stops just short of calling them uncultured, but that meaning may lie in the ‑wegian suffix with a nod to the barbaric Vikings. In the new world, it may serve to underline the Northern European heritage of the inhabitants. In any case, it is hard to say with these slang words for swathes of people, how many of them would proudly identify as a “some-place-wegian”, and how many would be offended by the appellation.
I will leave you with an overview of the place names and demonyms discussed in these two posts. The words that end in ‑wegian are in bold.
Abbreviations: ig, Irish (Gaeilge); l, Latin; oe, Old English; on, Old Norse; pg, proto-Germanic; sg, Scottish Gaelic; ∅, no meaning.
|Norway||‑way from on ‑vegr “way”||Norwegian|
|Scandinavia||‑avia from pg ‑*awjō “island”24||Scandinavian, Scandiwegian, Scowegian|
|Galloway||‑way from sg ‑gaidheil “Gaels”||Gallovidian, Gallowegian, Galwegian|
|Galway||‑way from l ‑via from ig ‑imh ∅||Galwayman, Galwaywoman, Galwegian, ’Wegian|
|Stornoway||‑way from on ‑vágr “bay”||Stornowegian|
|Lerwick||‑wick from on ‑vík “inlet”||Lerwegian|
|Glasgow||‑gow from sg ‑cau “hollow”||Glasgower, Glasgowegian, Glaswegian, Weegie|
|Brisbane||‑bane from oe ‑bàn “bone”25||Brisbanian, Brisbanite, Briswegian|
|Tasmania||‑mania ∅||Tasmanian, Taswegian|
As this post shows, there is no limit to the number of place names that could gain the ending ‑wegian, and I think we will see more of them in the future. Some examples could be: a Yorwegian from York, England, which was at one point called Jórvík; a Whaligowegian or Whaliwegian from Whaligoe, Scotland; or how about a Corrinshegowegian or Corrinshewegian from Corrinshego, Northern Ireland?
I am sure, we will see much more creative uses than these, and I look forward to it.
A Dictionary of British Place Names (2011, new edition) by Anthony David Mills, p. 294:
Lerwick Shet. Lerwick 1625. ‘Mud Bay’. OScand. leirr + vík.
Dictionary of the Scots Language at Lerook n.:
Lerook. Also Lerrouk [...]; Ler(r)ick [...]. Local forms of Lerwick in Shetland
The Gaelic–English Dictionary (2006, new edition) by Colin Mark, appx. 12, p. 732:
Learaig / Liùrabhaig Lerwick ◻ sheòl sinn gu Learaig we sailed to Lerwick.
Dictionary of the Scots Language at Lerwegian n.:
Lerwegian. A native or citizen of Lerwick [...]
[The form is based on Norwegian, Glaswegian.]
The Concise Dictionary of World Place Names (2018, 4th edition) by John Everett-Heath at Glasgow:
Glasgow, [...] originally Glasgu, the Gaelic name is Glaschu or Glascho ‘Green Hollow’ from glas ‘green’ and cau ‘hollow’.
Dictionary of the Scots Language at Glesca n.:
Glesca. Also Glesga(e), Glaisgo, etc. Glasgow.
Johann Huͤbners Kurtze Fragen Aus der Neuen und Alten Geographie (1746) ch. 6, p. 191:
glasquo oder glascow, Lat. Glasquum, oder Glascovium, am Fluſſe Glotta, hat einen Ertz-Biſchoff, eine Univerſitaͤt ſeit 1453, und ſonſt eine ſehr luſtige Situation; wie denn Glascow ſchoͤner iſt als Edenburg, die Haupt-Stadt.
glasquo or glascow, Lat. Glasquum, or Glascovium, on the river Glotta [i.e. Clyde], has an archbishop, a University from 1453, and otherwise a very funny situation; that Glascow is more beautiful than Edinburgh, the capital.
The New Latin and English Dictionary (1782, new edition) by John Entick at Glaſcovium, sig. c2verso:
Glaſcovium vel Glaſcuum, Glaſgow in Scotland.
Oxford English Dictionary at Glaswegian n. and adj.:
Etymology: < Glasgow, after Galwegian adj. and n., Norwegian n. and adj.
Dictionary of the Scots Language at Glasgower n.:
†Glasgower, n. An inhabitant of Glasgow.
Dictionary of the Scots Language at Glasgowegian n.:
Glasgowegian, n. An inhabitant or native of Glasgow, a Glaswegian. [...]
[See note to Glaswegian and cf. Gallowegian.]
Dictionary of the Scots Language at Glaswegian n.:
Glaswegian, n. An inhabitant or native of Glasgow. Gen.Sc. Cf. Glasgowegian. [...]
[A reduced form of Glasgowegian.]
Oxford English Dictionary at Weegie n. and adj.:
Etymology: Shortened < Glaswegian n. + ‑y suffix6.
Popularized by the writer Irvine Welsh [...]
Scottish colloquial. [...]
A native or inhabitant of Glasgow; a Glaswegian.
London Music in 1888–89 (1937) by “Corno Di Bassetto” (i.e. George Bernard Shaw), 21 Feb. 1889, p.64:
Then I dashed away to Broad-street, and asked the booking-clerk whether he knew of a place called Bow. He was evidently a man of extraordinary nerve, for he handed me a ticket without any sign of surprise, as if a voyage to Bow were the most commonplace event possible. [...] When I got into the concert-room I was perfectly dazzled by the appearance of the orchestra. [...] Dido and Eneas is 200 years old, and not a bit the worse for wear. I daresay many of the Bowegians thought that the unintentional quaintness of the amateurs in the orchestra were Purcellian antiquities. If so, they were never more mistaken in their lives.
I haven’t been able to find this in any dictionary, but see, for example, this article from Travel Wire Asia (18 Jan. 2014) Brisbane named Australia’s hippest city by Lonely Planet guides:
Perhaps one of the best things about Brisbane is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Brissie, BrisVegas, Brisso, Brislantis, Briswegian, Brisbogan and Brisneyland are just some of the nicknames its own residents give the city and help form some of the laid-back and friendly nature to the place.
Oxford English Dictionary at Tasmanian adj. and n.:
a. A member of the aboriginal people of Tasmania, now extinct. [...]
b. A native or inhabitant of Tasmania.
Green’s Dict. of Slang at Taswegian n.:
[abbr. + play on SE Glaswegian/Norwegian etc.]
(Aus.) a person from Tasmania.
The rugby team of Galway is called Galwegians, and this name is sometimes shortened to ’Wegians. For example, see Connacht Tribune (2 Oct. 2015) ‘Wegians pay the price for failing to take their chances. ↩
Source: The Cambridge History of Scandinavia: Prehistory to 1520 (2003) by Knut Helle, p. 1. ↩