Viva Las Vegas-es

March 30, 2009 § 3 Comments

NZ English speakers might recognise the name of the glitzy gambling town with a grubby underbelly (well according to CSI) as Spanish in origin. It actually means ‘the meadows’ … an ideal name for a desert city … But the attitudes about Los Vegas are far more important than the Spanish etymology. I know this because NZ speakers relatively recently have begin renaming NZ towns. You might hear people talking of

  • Rotovegas
  • Wangavegas (or perhaps sometime in the future Whangavegas
  • Dannevegas
  • Ashvegas
  • (thanks to my informants in 232)

No prizes for guessing the original names of these towns. But what are we saying about a town if we affix -vegas to its name? Perhaps Rotovegas is the easiest to understand and taking an unsubstantiated stab in the dark, I would suggest that this was the first of the vegas municipalities in New Zealand. It shares with the original a sense of a holiday destination and may have a sense of touristic glamour pasted over the otherwise regular NZ town. This cannot be said for the other Vegas-es (plural Vegi?).  Rather perceptions of these towns by outsiders might suggest that the morpheme created by NZ speakers is somewhat ironic.  Somewhat negative attitudes acknowledging the tacky and unseemly side of  the Nevada town seem to be widely held. Here is an excerpt from the blog of the LA Times reporting on two famous philosopher types, Francis Fukuyama and Bernard-Henry Levy arguing about it:

Fukuyama  writes: “Las Vegas is a real city with real people, not just sex workers, in it.” (FYI: Mr. Fukuyama, don’t let their boobs fool you the sex workers are real people, too.)
As for Levy’s view—like a true French Professor— it arrives in the form of a rhetorical question:”Francis, are you implying that all this American grandeur, this fundamental belief, this dream that has inspired so many generations of men and women throughout the world is to find its truth in this empire of imposture, this triumph of tackiness and falsehood, which you cannot deny is the other reality of Las Vegas?”


 Ashburton and Dannevirke are probably do not register highly on tourists’ or NZers’ excite-ometer. So rather than referring to glamour and high-rolling lifestyles, the attachment of -vegas marks a lack of perceived excitement or even a tacky or disturbing underbelly, a marked reversal in meaing from the source term.

Given that my informants could only name one non-local -vegas town, Brisvegas, we can see that attitudes or perceptions about the location are required for this operation to take place.

Let us know, though, if you hear of other Vegas towns


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§ 3 Responses to Viva Las Vegas-es

  • masseylinguists says:

    In fact, here is a local view on the name Rotovegas. I am not sure I entirely agree with the analysis given

  • masseylinguists says:

    Incidently the NZ Vegas towns have made into Wikipedia … honestly I didn’t put it there …
    A number of towns have acquired ironic nicknames. One such name, “Roto-vegas”, initially coined to mock Rotorua by comparing it to the seemingly much more exciting Las Vegas, got adopted semi-ironically by the youth of the town. British writer Lynn Barber picked up on the nickname while visiting the town and, apparently not realising the irony, wrote that “that’s pushing it a bit – Roto Blackpool maybe”.[8] Other towns have also acquired ‘Vegas’ nicknames, for example Wangavegas (Wanganui), Ashvegas ( Ashburton) and Stokes Vegas (Stokes Valley). Hamilton will sometimes jokingly appear as ‘Hamiltron: City of the Future’, apparently after a real suggestion for a city slogan.

  • masseylinguists says:

    Glasgow may be a vegas town – if the band by the name Glasvegas is anything to go by

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