One more item from my blog backlog, this one starting with a January 2nd op-ed column in the NYT by Paul Krugman, “America Becomes a Stan”, which began:

In 2015 the city of Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, was graced with a new public monument: a giant gold-plated sculpture portraying the country’s president on horseback. This may strike you as a bit excessive. But cults of personality are actually the norm in the “stans,” the Central Asian countries that emerged after the fall of the Soviet Union, all of which are ruled by strongmen who surround themselves with tiny cliques of wealthy crony capitalists.

Americans used to find the antics of these regimes, with their tinpot dictators, funny. But who’s laughing now?

We are, after all, about to [remember that this was published on January 2nd] hand over power to a man who has spent his whole adult life trying to build a cult of personality around himself; remember, his “charitable” foundation spent a lot of money buying a six-foot portrait of its founder. Meanwhile, one look at his Twitter account is enough to show that victory has done nothing to slake his thirst for ego gratification. So we can expect lots of self-aggrandizement once he’s in office. I don’t think it will go as far as gold-plated statues, but really, who knows?

I don’t mean to slight the social and political message here — that our country risks becoming a gold-plated failed-state autocracy — but this posting is mostly about the linguistic point, the appearance of the independent word stan, extracted from English names of regions and political entities with the libfix -(i/y)stan, originally an element in such names in other languages but now available for forming new names in English.

But first, a vision of what we could be, when America becomes great again:


Turkmenistan has done it. Why can’t we?

The actual stans. The Central Asian stans Krugman is talking about are Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The term Central Asia often takes in Afghanistan as well (and some would argue that it should take in parts of Pakistan, and maybe some parts of Iran and Mongolia as well). A map from a previous posting:


The suffix –stan in these names goes back to the Persian noun stan ‘place’, here conveying something like ‘place of (a people)’, cognate with the Sanskrit word sthāna. It occurs in some other names (Baluchistan, Kurdistan, Hindustan), originally in a variety of languages of the region (Indo-European and Turkic), and then in the names borrowed into English. Once these English names became familiar, the element –stan was ripe for being liberated as a suffix that could be used to form new words on any sort of base at all (but largely with a playful or mocking tone) — and it was also ripe for being fully liberated, treated as an independent word meaning something like ‘bush-league country’.

I’ll take the second of these developments first. An affix turning into an independent word isn’t  tremendously common, but it happens: we’ve gotten nouns like phobia (from the formative –phobia ‘fear, dislike’) and the pair pro ‘someone in favor of (something)’ and anti ‘someone opposed to (something)’ (from prefixes); and adjectives like hyper ‘hyperactive’ (from the prefix) and ish ‘sort of’ (from the suffix). There’s no standard term for this development. I would have preferred deaffixation: in affixation, an element (usually an independent word) goes into the affix state, in deaffixation, an element goes out of the affix state, to become an independent word. Unfortumately, deaffixation has also been used to refer to the suppression of an affix, by reduction or deletion.

So I’m inclined to look to the term libfix as a model. A libfix is a part of a lexeme elevated, liberated, to the status of an affix; we want a term for an affix elevated, liberated, to the status of a lexeme: I suggest liblex. For the inchoative verb corresponding to the verb libfixation, I suggest liblexification. Not especially elegant, but (I hope) serviceable.

The libfix -stan. At some point, -stan ran away from the relatively small set of names for regions and political entities, with ethnonym bases, to join the circus. So we get, for example:

Gary Larson’s Tee Time in Berzerkistan: A Doonesbury Book (2009)

a role-playing game, whose site includes the following text:

Greetings, Generals, for the past week we have watched as the government of Crazistan has rallied against our people and prepared its forces for a strike against us.

and, of course, a number of coinings of Turdistan (on the model of Kurdistan), including one on a site with this text:

The remote nation of Turdistan is the most undeveloped and poor in the world. The tiny Asian nation has, in recent years, come under attack from Russia, Iran, Iraq, America, Uzbekistan, a guy with a really big rock, a goldfish with a nasty attitude, and Poland.

The nation of Turdistan is widely known for not being known, and legendary for being a country in Asia. It boasts the world’s rustiest wheelbarrow, the world’s largest pothole, and the largest suicide rate in Asia. Its natural resources include shrubs, broken farm tools, and radioactive cabbages.

Even better, thanks to the sleuthing of Kim Darnell, I can report that there’s a Wikipedia page supplying a “List of fictional Asian countries”, among them:

Adjikistan: Central Asian nation located near Afghanistan and Pakistan in the video game SOCOM U.S. Navy SEALs: Combined Assault

Albenistan: Central Asian country in the d20 adventures Raid on Ashkashem, the Qalashar Device, and the Khorforhan Gambit written by Fraser Ronald and published by Sword’s Edge Publishing.

Aldastan: Central Asian country, adjacent to Kazakhstan, in the Command & Conquer: Generals video game. Apparently a union of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzistan.

Babalstan: Middle Eastern country in the movie Harum Scarum

Bazookistan: A country that was visited by Scrooge McDuck to retrieve the Candy Striped Ruby from the Bazookistan Bandits.

Franistan: from the I Love Lucy episode ‘The Publicity Agent’ in which Lucy petends to be the “Maharincess of Franistan”, royalty from a faraway land who is a big fan of Ricky’s, in order to get Ricky some publicity.

Frigyzstan: another fictional union republic in the game Heavy Weapon, usually referring to Kyrgyzstan.

Hermajistan: A fictional nation used to replace Afghanistan in the anime version of Full Metal Panic. The change was made after the September 11, 2001 attacks, as the protagonist was originally raised in Afghanistan. A later part of the story involves an operation in Hermajistan.

Howduyustan: Carl Barks’ [Disney cartoonist] satirical version of India [from 1952].

Jumbostan and Unsteadystan: from the world of Donald Duck [Carl Barks again].

Kuristan: from the [1997] movie Mr. Magoo, Central Asian nation that is home to the famous jewel The Star of Kuristan.

Parmistan, the setting for the 1985 film Gymkata. It is said to be in the Hindu Kush mountain range.

Takistan: a country in Central Asia, from the computer game ArmA II: Operation Arrowhead.

Tazbekistan: Central Asian republic, setting for the 2013 BBC TV comedy series Ambassadors.

Turaqistan: A war torn Central Asian country in the movie War, Inc., occupied by a global defense corporation named Tamerlane. It is the country of Yonica Babyyeah, a famous Central Asian pop star.

Yetzanistan: Middle Eastern country from the animated television series Inspector Gadget

Yogistan: mountainous Asian country in The Ascent of Rum Doodle by William Ernest Bowman [a 1956 satire on the world of mountaineering literature].

Zokistan: a Middle East republic from RoboCop: The Animated Series, homeland of the sheikh Ilmar

As you can see, -(i/y)stan has been around for some time, with a tone ranging from gently mocking to wildly silly. Bazookistan is hard to beat.

4 Responses to “stans”

  1. Story Nurse Says:

    Don’t forget Rick Meyerowitz’s 2001 “New Yorkistan” cover for the New Yorker:

  2. Gary Vellenzer Says:

    Your Turkmenistan statue is the second-time-as-farce version of this famous statue in St. Petersburg:

  3. Take a Look at the New DuckTales Series ~ Hip Hop Headquarters Says:

    […] stans […]

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