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Where's Cissylvania?
October 26, 2009 6:38 PM   Subscribe

Where's Cissylvania?

There are some pairs of geographical names with "cis" and "trans" prefixes. These include Cisalpine and Transalpine Gaul; the Ciskei and Transkei in apartheid South Africa; the Cisjordan (present-day Palestine) and Transjordan (present-day Jordan).

And then there's Transylvania.

Where's Cissylvania? (Or Cisylvania? I'm not even sure how to spell it.)
posted by madcaptenor to Writing & Language (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Google shows no results for either Cissylvania or Cisylvania.

Where did you come across this word?
posted by dfriedman at 6:44 PM on October 26, 2009


I didn't come across it. (I tried googling before I asked this question.) A friend of mine suggested that it ought to exist, because Transylvania clearly means something like "beyond the forest" in Latin.

This actually came up in a discussion about the words "cisgendered" and "transgendered", but that's not what the question is supposed to be about.
posted by madcaptenor at 6:47 PM on October 26, 2009


trans- means "across" or "beyond", cis- means "on the same side as". I'm not sure why you think there has to be a pair for a plce to have either of these prefixes. There is no Southern Ireland or East Virginia, either.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:49 PM on October 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure I'm following. You're saying that because one pair of places has Cis- and Trans- as prefixes that another place with Trans- as a prefix must have a paired place with Cis- as its prefix?

I don't think that necessarily follows. And if Google doesn't return a result, such a place probably doesn't exist.
posted by dfriedman at 6:49 PM on October 26, 2009


"Trans-" means "on the far side" or "across"
"Cis-" means "on the near side"

Transalpine and Cisalpine Gaul are, thus, divided by the Alps, from the point of view of Rome.
posted by Bromius at 6:51 PM on October 26, 2009


A friend of mine suggested that it ought to exist, because Transylvania clearly means something like "beyond the forest" in Latin.

Transylvania doesn't have a companion place. My best guess -- as probably one of only two MeFites who have ever lived there -- is that it refers to the part of Romania that is on the other side of the forest/mountain ranges. If you look at the map you can sort of see [or trust Wikipedia, and me] that Transylvania is separated from the rest of the country by the Carpathian mountains. The place that is not beyond the forest is sort of .... the rest of the country.
posted by jessamyn at 6:57 PM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Bromius, that's what I was figuring. So in this case, why did the far side of the forest get named for that fact, but not the near side? (And which forest are we talking about, and from whose perspective?)
posted by madcaptenor at 6:58 PM on October 26, 2009


Well, I guess it simply didn't seem necessary. If you're talking about "the land on the other side of the forest," it seems a safe bet that "the land on this side of the forest" is where you are, and doesn't need to be explicitly named.
Gaul is a slightly different story, as the Romans saw it a land inhabited by specific groups of people that straddled the mountains.
posted by Bromius at 7:01 PM on October 26, 2009


Bromius, that's what I was figuring. So in this case, why did the far side of the forest get named for that fact, but not the near side? (And which forest are we talking about, and from whose perspective?)

Probably Hungary, which ruled Transylvania at the time the name appeared. Thus "Cissylvania" would be Hungary, I guess. That would make the forest probably somewhere near the Apuseni Mountains? Hell, I don't know.
posted by Sova at 7:15 PM on October 26, 2009


Bromius: now that I think about it, the other examples I gave were also given those names by people other than their inhabitants.
posted by madcaptenor at 7:26 PM on October 26, 2009


Cisylvania would be a fantastic setting for a chemistry-themed Gothic novel.
posted by miyabo at 7:34 PM on October 26, 2009 [7 favorites]


There are a lot of misconceptions here.

I could see Jessamyn's point, since modern-day Transylvania is more forested along its eastern side, in what's now Székelyföld (the land of the Szeklers, a Hungarian-speaking ethnic group) and a practical point from which to separate Transylvania from the rest of Romania. But this point negates the basic reality that Transylvania is much better seen as a part of historical Hungary, not Romania, so it doesn't make much sense that the roots of the word "Transylvania" would come from a Romanian / Wallachian / Moldavian perspective - especially since the Romanian word for Transylvania, "Ardeal," is almost universally understood to be derived from the Hungarian word "Erdély." (Evidence of this is also in the fact that "Ardeal" doesn't really suggest much of anything, wordroot-wise in Romanian, while "Erdély" bears clear relation to the word "erdő," which means "forest" or "woods" in Hungarian.)

If the word "Transylvania" were meant to describe the division between that territory and the rest of (historical) Hungary, you'd expect to see big forests between the two. Yet the division between Transylvania and the rest of what was once (and still is, for the most part) Hungary is marked more by puszta ("emptiness") than forests. (I reckon this has been true for a long time, although much of Transylvania used to be forested and isn't any longer.) So that doesn't make much sense.

So what's the reason behind the name? I was told by an historian of the Romanian Academy that, nearly one thousand years ago, when the region was largely unpopulated, some sort of regal dispensation was made which granted some seat of power rights to exploit aspects of the territory on one side of a forested territory outside Cluj-Napoca (or Kolozsvár), near Turda (or Torda.) This is not an especially large area, but it was referred to as something akin to "across the forest" in Latin - "Ultra Silvanus." But various names - all meaning more or less the same thing - were used, and eventually this became "Transylvania." It didn't have anything to do with the Romans either, it was simply that this was the word used in official Hungarian documents, where Latin was used as an official court language. It just stuck.

So the land wasn't really separated by a giant forest as such; the territory simply became affiliated with the name of a smaller area within it which had become fairly relevant to powerful figures far away. It's worth noting that this "original" Transylvania is still pretty much the center of the territory, and Kolozsvár (or Cluj-Napoca) its traditional capital. Torda (or Turda) isn't more than a short bus ride away.

I'm not sure why you think there has to be a pair for a plce to have either of these prefixes. There is no Southern Ireland or East Virginia, either.

That's basically it. If it were really named because it was separated from some other place by a giant and important forest, perhaps there'd be some logic to this question. But it's naming wasn't due to that factor. It's worth noting that "Transylvania" probably caught on in other places in Western Europe where Latin was a status language, because it's recognizably a Latin name. But it's not called "Transylvania" or an equivalent everywhere. The Germans, who had their own sense of history in the region call it "Siebenbürgen," for reasons of their own historical presence in the area.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 7:52 PM on October 26, 2009 [4 favorites]


How come there's only one 's'? Isn't the prefix "trans?" Also, not every trans word needs to have a corresponding cis word anymore than uncouth needs a couth or inept needs an ept.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:13 AM on October 27, 2009


inept does have an ept, except its spelled apt. Its a case/tense thing, we took one for apt, another for inept.
posted by jeb at 7:42 AM on October 27, 2009



I'm not sure why you think there has to be a pair for a plce to have either of these prefixes. There is no Southern Ireland or East Virginia, either.


I mean, to be fair, there is a southern Ireland and and east Virginia, they just aren't called primarily by those names. The idea isn't so ludicrous, as Dee Xtrovert mentions, there is no huge important forest. If there was, there may have been a Cissylvania.
posted by Carillon at 8:45 AM on October 27, 2009


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