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Arbitrary shortness of breath?

R
ide the D.C. area's Metro system and you'll hear the driver identify the train you're on by the station at the end of the line. Until recently, the Blue Line's end points were the Addison Road and Van Dorn Street stations. Only you never heard "Van Dorn Street" -- it was always simply "Van Dorn." It was never simply "Addison" -- Addison Road always got its "Road," but Van Dorn Street never got its "Street." (This might make some sense if Van Dorn Street were in a community known as "Van Dorn," but it isn't.)

Why am I boring you with Washington trivia? It's to examine the curious phenomenon of linguistic laziness. I've already touched on the issue with my rant on tuxes, limos, veggies and Vegas, but the Van Dorn example is more troublesome. If people were truly lazier than fecal matter, they would refer to the Addison Road stop as "Addison." But they don't. It's as if place names have a certain expected rhythm that's broken when a third word is added. I've seen the same thing with downtown Washington's Mount Vernon Square. Reporters writing about the area tend to lapse into "Mount Vernon" midway through the story. This is more dangerous than the Van Dorn example, because the D.C. area does have a Mount Vernon (George Washington's estate, a dozen or so miles down the Potomac in Virginia), and Mount Vernon Square ain't it.

For truly bizarre examples of this phenomenon, I think of a girl I once dated who clipped virtually everything she said, sometimes adding the not-quite-possessive, not-quite-plural S favored by Detroit autoworkers (who say things like "I used to work at Chryslers, but now I work at Fords!") and, oddly, the British (What is the deal with Reuter[s]?). When she started talking about "Consumers," it took me a few moments to realize she meant the magazine Consumer Reports. When she said she read something in "USA," she was talking about USA Today.


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