Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Article excerpt

'YOU'LL know this,' said my husband in a challenging tone of voice. 'Kursaal. A kursaal. There's one in Southend. What's it mean? Is it Dutch?'

I did not know, and thought it might be Dutch, what with Southend being on the east coast and my not knowing Dutch. But it is not Dutch; it is German, from kur or cur 'cure' and saal `room or hall'. At Southend it means a sort of entertainment arcade, but the German name must have been adopted before the first world war.

Sure enough, the big Oxford English Dictionary has a quotation which is spot on, from the Westminster Gazette for 14 September 1902: `Margate and Southend Kursaals, Limited'. Not that this is exactly illustrative of the meaning, which the dictionary gives as: 'A public building at a German health resort, provided for the use and entertainment of visitors; hence, sometimes, a similar building at an English watering-place.' The earliest citation is from Thackeray's Pendennis (1849).

Perhaps soon Mecca (as attached to ballroom or bingo hall) will be as obsolescent as kursaal. Muslims in Luton have objected to the name of the Mecca leisure centre there, though the name had originally been devised by the proud owners of the new Mecca Smoking Cafe in London in 1884. …

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