I'm chewing the fat with a tenis partner at the local universidad courts and we get on to where we're from. I tell him I was born in London and he nods appreciatively.
'Ah, you Londoner,' he says, taking the opportunity to show off his English.
'¿Y tú?' I ask, taking the opportunity to show you how a question in Spanish needs an upside down question mark at the beginning of a sentence as well as a 'normal' one at the end.
'I Madrileño,' he says, puffing out his chest, á-la Sergio Ramos (who is in fact a Sevillano, but he's played proudly for Real Madrid since 2005).
I wonder how I might describe myself, having spent eleven years in the small town of Burriana. Would I be a Burrialeño? It rolls off my tongue in (what I imagine is) an impressive-sounding flourish as I ask. But my Madrileñan opponent laughs.
'No, you Burrianense!' he says, in a fairly impressive-sounding flourish. We chat a bit more about me also being able to call myself a Valenciano (seeing as Burriana is in the comunidad Valenciana). But my mind is wandering. Why are there so many different endings to choose from? 'leño', 'ense', 'no'? Why wasn't there just one, as there is with English?
I'm a Londoner; my mum was (quite close to being) a Dubliner; my dad was a Belfaster - umm, now that doesn't sound quite right. Belfaster? Is that right? Is someone from Cardiff a Cardiffer? Is there such a thing as an Edinburger? There can't be. What about Glasgower? No, I know that one, it's Glaswegian. And now that I think about it, people from Bristol are Bristolians. Then there are Mancunians and Liverpudlians. (Or are they Scousers?) And are people from Birmingham really Brummies? And what do you call someone from Leeds? Or Newcastle?
There's no alternative. What do you do when you discover that you've no idea what you're talking about? I'm forced to enter the parallel universe that is Google where I find a word I never knew existed – Demonym, the noun used to denote the inhabitants of a particular place. And of course, as I dive deeper into the dark underbelly of the interweb, I find enough detail to drown myself.
So, OK, I confess, I didn't know that my dad was a Belfastite. He never said. And Cardiff? Cardiffian. But, get this, Edinburger is correct. Who knew? (I guess most of the population of Edinburgh.) And Leeds? Leodensian. Honest. I'm not making this up. It's true. It's on the internet. On Wikipedia! And Mancunians even have a choice, they can be Mancs if they want. Newcastle? Novocastrians. Really! But is that only if you can't pronounce Geordie? People from Sheffield are Sheffielders. It sounds a bit dull now, doesn't it. Why don't they rebel, call themselves Sheffs? Or Sheffers? Or Sheffters? Or Shefferdonianiters, or somesuch?
Are you a Sluff? Well, you are if you were born in Slough. Or maybe you're a Silhillian? I guess if you live in Solihull it beats being a Brummie. Linda's from very close to Solihull and she assures me she's never heard of anyone ever calling themselves (or being called) a Silhillian. Not even in the middle of a primary-playground scuffle. It just gets better. Are you a Mackem? Could you be a Mackem without knowing it? I don't know anyone from Sunderland so I can't check if anyone from there knows they're Mackems. (At least according to the internet they are.)
You think I'm getting just a little bit silly? Well, the truth is - I've barely started. Where do Wintonians come from? Or Cantabrigians? Or Wulfrunians? And how about the Monkey Hangers? The what? You know, even I'm beginning to wonder if this is getting just a little bit too silly. But there it is, they're all on the internet (and more!) so who am I to argue? Let's start with the Wintonians, they're (apparently) from Winchester. And the Cantabrigians? I'd forgive you for guessing Canterbury, but no, it's Cambridge. Wulfrunians? Wolverhampton. And again, as I've said, Linda grew up in Birmingham (less than 30 kilometres away) and she'd never heard this word before I spluttered it to her.
So we're left with the Monkey Hangers. You really think I'm joking, don't you? Well, possibly not if you're one of the ninety-odd thousand people (or is that the ninety-thousand odd people) who live in Hartlepool. Apparently (oh, alright then, let's call a spade a spade - according to Wikipedia), local folklore tells of a monkey surviving a shipwreck during the Napoleonic Wars and being hung by the locals for being a French spy.
I weigh up the likelihood of me being able to convey some of this to my tennis rival the next time we play, and conclude that he wouldn't understand a word I'd say, and wouldn't believe any of it if he could. So, maybe I'll just have to accept that I'm a Burrianense. Suppose it's better than being a burro.
I'm going to go all 'modern' for this last bit and avoid all the madrileño/a stuff to show the masculine/feminine options by adopting the hardly-out-of-the-box methods of the smart young things in Spain. It's now the height of linguistic fashionability to write Madrileñ@ to cover all bases using the 'aroba' sign. Don't you just love the way language evolves?
Of course, Spanish traditionalists aren't keen on this sort of jiggery-pokery, but I'm with the younger generation taking ownership of their own language. I get a bit irritated by the prescriptive view of language which says it has to be done the way it's always been done – ignoring the fact that everything done now was once done for a first time (and was, no doubt, complained about by the prescriptivists of the time). Language is an invention of humans, why stop them inventing it now? Takes deep breath and climbs off tall steed.
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