I often refer to the inhabitants of Albany, New York as “Albanians.” I did not create this term. The people of Albany, past and present, refer to themselves as “Albanians.” However, when I use this noun outside of New York, I confront misunderstanding from my non-New York listeners and readers who often think I am referring to the people of the Republic of Albania, not Albany.
For whatever reason, I decided to look up “Albanian” in the Oxford English Dictionary last week. To my surprise I found that "Albanian" has 9 definitions, 6 nouns & 3 adjectives.
- Noun, ca. 1400. A native or inhabitant of Albania, a country once located in the eastern Caucasus, in the regions that are now Azerbaijan and the southern part of the Republic of Dagestan.
- Noun. The Caucasian language spoken by this people.
- Adjective, ca. 1565. Of or relating to Scotland or its people; Scottish. Chiefly with references to the time prior to the Scottish Wars of Independence (1296-1357), in later use often in relation to the Scots who settled in what is now western Scotland.
- Noun, ca. 1569. A native or inhabitant of Albania; a person of Albanian descent.
- Noun. The Indo-European language spoken in Albania, Kosovo, and parts of Macedonia and Montenegro, and by communities of Albanian descent elsewhere.
- Adjective, ca. 1578. Of or belonging to the Caucasian country of Albania, its language, or its people.
- Noun, ca. 1685. A native or inhabitant of Scotland; a Scot. Chiefly with reference to the time prior to the Scottish Wars of Independence (1296-1357).
- Adjective, ca. 1593. Of or relating to Albania, its people, or its language; of or relating to Albanians, or speakers of Albanian living elsewhere.
- Noun, ca. 1689. A native or inhabitant of Albany, New York State.
Reading these definitions proved helpful. It helped me realize that I had used the term “Albanian” correctly as a noun and incorrectly as an adjective. I occasionally use “Albanian” as an adjective to describe viewpoints, characteristics, or goods that came from Albany. In the context of my work, I believe I can get away with using the term as an adjective. Perhaps my book, tentatively-titled America's First Gateway: Albany, N.Y, 1615-1830, will cause the OED to add an 10th definition to their entry.
My reading also taught me a new definition. I had not known that I could use “Albanian” to describe someone who lived in Scotland prior to 1296. As I study early America I won’t be able to use this definition often. Still, I will let it sit in the back of my brain as a piece of pub trivia or for when I have the opportunity to impress a medievalist who works on Scotland.
Have you ever come across a word that leads to confusion, even when you use it correctly? Please share.