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Published: 11/25/2009
Mapping Lexicalia
Two German cartographers, Stephan Hormes and Silke Peust, have created an atlas that renders the world's place names into their original meanings. The book is titled, "The Atlas of True Names." To produce it, Hormes and Peust distilled the names of hundreds of cities, countries, mountains, deserts, and the like, down to their etymological essences, and then wrote out the results in modern English. "New York City," for instance, is given as, "New Yew-Tree Village," and "Great Britain" is recast as "Great Land of the Tatooed." Hormes told Der Spiegel a few days ago that he was inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings;" the place names that Tolkien bestowed upon Middle Earth (such as, Mirkwood, or Mount Doom), he said, "are so clear that every kid understands them." As can be expected, the etymologies of real place names are frequently unclear, and linguistic skeptics have already started to pick apart the project. But the atlas was not intended to be a work of scholarship. It is a playful mediation on words -- one that the authors hope will restore "an element of enchantment to the world we all think we know so well."