Printable Version
Pronunciation: kahn-êr-bay-shên Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. An aggregation of urban areas, a group of one or more cities that have expanded until they overlap. 2. The process by which cities expand until they meet to form a single large urban area.

Notes: Today's Good Word first emerged in 1915 (see Word History), so it has just begun to develop a family. The noun suffix -ion implies a noun from a verb conurbate. Latinate words on -ate imply certain other forms aside from conurbation: conurbative, conurbatively, even conurbatable and conurbatability. Although these forms are just emerging, they are perfectly legitimate, which is to say, grammatical.

In Play: Today's is a more specific word to replace such phrases as urban sprawl or metropolitan area: "The District of Columbia was created to separate Washington from any particular state, but today it is the center of a conurbation of many cities in Maryland and Virginia." A conurbation is a conglomeration of cities with no physically distinct boundaries: "The conurbation of our city with others around us forces all the city councils involved to cooperate more than they have in the past."

Word History: Seldom can we pinpoint the origin of a word the way we can today's. It was introduced by the Scottish urban planner Patrick Geddes (who also designed Tel Aviv) in his 1915 monograph, Cities in Evolution. Geddes took the Latin prefix con- "(together) with", glommed it onto urban, added the verbal suffix -ate that appears on so many verbs borrowed from Latin, and capped it all with the noun suffix -ion. Nothing to it. Latin urbanus "pertaining to cities" came from urbs, urbis "city", a word that probably originated in Mesopotamia, modern day Iran. The Sumerian language, spoken there in the 4th and 3rd millennia BC, contained a word uri "city". This word may well have been borrowed by the Etruscans, who lived in Italy before the Romans arrived. Our best guess is that urbs was the Etruscan model of Sumerian uri. (We must not let the growing conurbation around the world distract us from thanking William Hupy for suggesting today's very Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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