Archive for ‘Etymology’

06/02/2012

Flushing, Queens, New York. Not Vlissingen, New Amsterdam.

Johan Santana celebrates after his no hitter. Straight up stolen from the AP.

I’ve always thought “Flushing” was a stupid name for a city. We associate the word mostly with toilets.

Terrible.

I was reminded of it last night as I watched Johan Santana throw the first no hitter in New York Mets history. In watching and reading the coverage from several media outlets across the nation, I saw many of them refer to the events happening in Flushing, and every time they said it, I remembered myself as an eight year old kid. When my dad told me the Mets played in Flushing, I was perplexed. “There’s a town called ‘Flushing.’ And the Mets play there? Gross.” I kind of felt like the rest of baseball has always silently snickered about how the Mets play in Flushing, referring to Shea Stadium as a toilet.

So why the hell is that town called Flushing?

Turns out that the area was originally named Vlissingen by the Dutch when they settled in what is now New York City. Vlissingen is also the name of an existing town in the Netherlands which has been around since 1315. All the way back in the 1600’s, the English started referring to that Dutch town as something more Anglo: “Flussingue.” That eventually became “Flushing.” So, after the British took over the New Netherlands colony, the New World Vlissingen simply became Flushing around the end of the 17th century.

All this happened a few hundred years before flushable toilets in homes became popular. The phrase “flush the toilet” was nearly non-existent in English writing until the 20th century. Here’s the Google Ngram picture for the phrase.

“Flush the toilet” historically.

So, you know, the name of Flushing, Queens where my New York Mets play has NOTHING to do with toilets. Not even close. I feel way better about the name now. My inner, snickering eight year old has been somewhat pacified.

*Most of the information about the historical aspects of Flushing and Dutch/English occupation was culled from Wikipedia, so I generalized it to make sure it didn’t really make a difference for the point I was trying to make. If I made any important mistake, feel free to point it out in the comments.