Burgers to Burghers

“Speaking of burgers, what about the Burghers of Calais?” A jet roared overhead, nearly close enough to part my hair, as C.J. asked the question. I dabbed hamburger juice from my chin.

“Burgers of where?” I asked before my brain slipped into gear. “Oh, of course: Rodin’s sculpture honoring the medieval burghers who sacrificed their freedom to save their city from conquest by England. I knew that. What about them?”

“Well, we know Hamburger means someone or something from Hamburg, like this kind of burger,” indicating his towering stack of beef and cheese. “So what does the –burg part of places like Hamburg, Limburg and Pittsburgh mean? Any relation to burgher, which seems to mean an important person in a town?”

I wiped my greasy fingertips before checking the OED Online on my phone. “Burg in West Germanic, the common ancestor of English and German, meant a fortress or walled town. In English the word became borough, but Scotland used the spelling burgh with an H.”

Edinburgh Castle

“Is that how burg got to be kind of a slangy term for ‘town’?”

I nodded and chewed, wondering when he was going to bring up his proposition.

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