Saturday, July 19, 2008

Previously Known as a “Snooty Chunk”

Earlier this year, I was talking to a co-worker — let’s call her Leona — about her impending marriage. I ask her if she planned to take her husband’s name and keep her own. She didn’t know. I asked her what her soon-to-be-husband’s name was, and Leona answered with “van Something Something.” (I’m not trying to protect Leona’s privacy here. I honestly can’t remember what followed the “Van,” but it sounded nice, believe me.) Me: “Leona, you have to take his name. I mean, the name you have now is great and all, but Leona van Something Something — that’s a name. Leona Van Something Something owns a yacht.”

In the end, she didn’t take his name, but I maintain that Van Something Something or any other surname beginning in “van” has an air of aristocracy to it.

This brings us to this weeks’ word of the week, which is technically two words, but they function to convey one specific meaning. So this week’s word is a compound word. (Forgive me.) But I think it’s a good one.
nobiliary particle — noun: one of those prefixes such as “de” or “von” which, before a personal name, indicate noble ancestry.
The Superior Person’s Third Book of Well-Bred Words notes that this otherwise insignificant chunks of word are remarkably useful when booking a room at a London hotel. I don’t know if that’s true, but I feel they do add something — and that thing I suddenly felt missing from my life when I found out that my mom’s family dropped its “von” upon arriving in the United States. Of course, living in Santa Barbara, the power of the “von” in particular has been diminished by a certain person that I'd rather not mention on my blog, though I'll note that mention of his proper name frequently draws the joke “von (of physiology).” It's really funny, in certain circles.

And that now you too know the term for this neat little grammatical function, you can accuse people of having inserted fraudulent nobiliary particles in their name just to sound all cool and stuff.

Less snooty but nonetheless notable words-o'-the-week: