Daily Archives: April 8, 2013

situated, located

Dear word sommelier: I have several Francophone colleagues who use “situated” rather than “located” everywhere, since the usual French word is “situé(e).” How do I explain the difference to them?

Geez, ask me something easy sometime. This is actually a tricky one because Anglophones tend to use them interchangeably a lot of the time, and in many cases it’s unnecessary stuffing either way:

The washrooms are located on the second floor.

The washrooms are situated on the second floor.

You can argue about which seems better, and it’s a viable argument, and we’re about to talk about it, but you should not overlook the fact that the best way to say that is

The washrooms are on the second floor.

But the question remains what difference it makes when you do use one or the other. And it does make a difference, not so much of denotation but of tone and of expected entailment and context. Each word has echoes of other words and is seen in particular collocations.

Located is often used with centrally, conveniently, ideally, strategically, physically, and abroad; things can be located at, between, close to, in, near, on, outside, within, etc. It’s used, in short, to establish the location – a spot on a map, a set of coordinates. It’s a common word, sometimes used in conversation, often used in stiff business writing and real estate ads.

Locate is also used to mean ‘find the location of’ and ‘put in a location’:

I have located the water fountain in the northwest corner of the garden. [This can mean you found it there or you put it there.]

Situate does not have the ‘find’ meaning; you can only mean one thing when you write

I have situated the water fountain in the northwest corner of the garden.

(In either case, if that’s what you mean, put or placed or installed would also be a viable option.)

Situated is less used in casual conversation, but it also used in the real-estate-ad kind of prose, in collocations with beautifully, delightfully, ideally, picturesquely, pleasantly, well, conveniently, inconveniently, centrally, remotely, and quietly. Notice the emotional tone: situated sits more pleasantly in the mind. And for many users, situated bears the context more in mind. You are located on a spot, but you are situated in a… well, in a situation. Situate also tastes of site (related) and sit (not related).

So when you’re talking about where something is, just as a spot on the map, located works:

Hamtramck is located in Wayne county, Michigan.

But when you’re talking about the context, situated can work well:

Lhasa is situated at the bottom of a small basin in the Himalaya mountains, on the northern bank of the Lhasa river.

You can use located in that sentence as well, but you may find it less natural to use situated in the sentence about Hamtramck, above.

Because situated carries the idea of context, you can also use it in to call forth the context in a more cogent way:

This sylvan abode is beautifully situated.

You get the idea of its being set in a lovely location surrounded by trees; your imagination likely fills in some more of the picture. Compare that with this:

This sylvan abode is beautifully located.

This seems to mean that the location is beautiful, or that whoever chose where to put it did a nice job. But it’s not quite as idiomatic. Add a bit more and you may see even clearer how situated seems to call forth context:

This sylvan abode is beautifully situated in the Green Mountains of Vermont.

This sylvan abode is beautifully located in the Green Mountains of Vermont.

Compare this with the dot-on-the-map approach:

I’m trying to find West Clarksville; I don’t know where it’s located.

I’m trying to find West Clarksville; I don’t know where it’s situated.

Inasmuch as you’d use the second one, you’d probably be talking about the surroundings, not just the coordinates – unless you just felt you should use a word that’s one syllable longer.

There’s one more thing that affects the sense of the two words: situate also carries an echo of situation, which has a much broader range of usage than location:

How did you get me into this situation?

How did you get me into this location?

There’s also the question of the sounds – located has the liquid /l/ and the hard /k/, while situated has a voiceless fricative and affricate hissing and catching – and the rhythm, with located a dactyl and situated two feet of trochaic rhythm. Indeed, you will often make the choice less on the basis of semantics and connotations and more on the basis of where the word is located. Or, rather, where it is situated.

Hamtramck

This name of a small city surrounded by the city of Detroit first caught my attention long ago just because of its appearance. First of all, it has the mck, which you just don’t see in English. How is that supposed to be pronounced? Secondly, it looked to me like an overstuffed version of Amtrak. And it has that ham-sandwich note as well.

I haven’t spent long hours contemplating the name of this city, but I haven’t forgotten it. And then this evening it came up when my friend Brian was telling me about his recent trip to Detroit. Detroit, it turns out, is in some ways a place very much worth a visit; in fact, Brian is planning to go back. Yes, it’s famous for being a hollowed-out city, its population reduced by more than a million in recent decades, block after block after block of abandoned houses, and even abandoned office buildings in the heart of the city. But there are still people who live there, and they like to do and be the same sorts of things as people elsewhere.

And it’s currently a very good place for internet startups and art studios and other funky small businesses that can choose what city to be located in and may very well choose a city where real estate is currently very inexpensive. Brian showed me a couple of real estate ads he had seen: one for a 9600-square-foot mansion with seven bedrooms and eight fireplaces and a ballroom and hardwood floors and so on, all for about $400,000; and one for a two-storey building, formerly a Polish veterans’ association (if I recall correctly), looking to be over 4000 square feet, for about $120,000.

The latter property was in fact in Hamtramck. Hamtramck has a few distinctions. The village of Hamtramck was established in 1901; a Dodge plant opened there in 1914, and the village incorporated as a city in 1922 to resist absorption into Detroit. It was able to do so because its population had grown to about 50,000, thanks to the manufacture of cars (so much for Amtrak!). And most of them were Polish.

Hamtramck has a long history of being a very, very Polish city. In 1970, 90% of its residents were of Polish origin. That has changed – now it’s more like 15% – but the city is a city of immigrants, with a very international flavour, and the Polish culture is still very important, with the St. Florian Church in the heart of the city (its cornerstone is inscribed in Latin and Polish) and much of the culture and celebrations Polish in origin.

So it’s not all that surprising that many people think Hamtramck is a Polish name. It’s a non-English-looking name, after all, and the city has a strongly Polish culture. But Hamtramck is not a word that could occur in Polish any more than it could in English. And the Polish residents moved to Hamtramck after it was founded. The village was actually named after the township of which it was a part. The township was founded in 1798.

Where did the township get its name? From the commandant of Detroit at the time, a colonel who had served in the Revolutionary War. Who was he? A native of Québec: Jean-François Hamtramck. Yes, Hamtramck is a name from France. Not that it looks much like one. The m’s would thus be just nasalizations of the preceding vowels.

But that, of course, is not how it’s said in Hamtramck, Michigan. After all, it’s surrounded by a city with a French name that is not said in the French way at all (I mean Detroit, from French détroit, ‘strait’). Nope, they don’t say it the French way and, although it’s physically possible to say “amk,” that’s not an English set of sounds. So it’s “ham-tram-ick.” Which means it has become one of those uncommon words with a vowel that is said but not written, sticking in there like a little city in the middle of a much bigger city.