I’ll be driving to Cologne in the morning, so I may not get much writing done over the weekend.

Cologne of course, is a city in western Germany.

Cologne though, as in cologne with a lower-case C when it’s not at the start of a sentence, is something a man sprays on himself to smell nice.

The reason we use the name for both is pretty straightforward.

Johann Maria Farina was an Italian chemist living in Cologne who developed a pleasant-smelling fragrance in the early 18th century. He called it eau de Cologne, the French for water of Cologne or Cologne water. His was actually a specific single fragrance, but the term has come to refer to any fragrance marketed towards men.

Cologne as a term for such a fragrance is really only used in American English. The rest of us call it… well, we’re not really sure. Some people say aftershave, but that’s not really accurate. Traditionally that was men’s primary method to smell nice, but of course it strictly should refer to some kind of balm applied after shaving. No-one seems to really want to call it perfume, as that’s been considered to be exclusively for women for so long. Fragrance seems to be the most acceptable term, though I think a lot of men are just happy to buy the stuff, use it, and not give it a name at all. In time, as traditional gender associations become less distinct, we’ll probably all call it perfume and that’ll be that.

Back to the city itself: Cologne is both the French and English name. In German it’s Köln. These names are derived from the Latin Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium, or Colonia Agrippina for short. The Colonia part means colony. In the 1st century AD, it was a Roman settlement, named after Agrippina the Younger, wife of the Roman Emperor Claudius. She was born there, and convinced Claudius to name the colony after her. Would that we all had such influence.

So effectively, cologne means colony. It’s not something you’ll probably think about the next time you’re drenching yourself in the stuff, but considering the word’s got 2,000 years of history behind it, it might make you more respectful and selective in your choice of cologne. And we’ll all benefit from that!

15 thoughts on “Cologne

  1. When I traveled in Europe, my bus tour stayed in a hotel outside Cologne, but we didn’t even see the city in the distance.

    I remember first reading about ‘toilet water’ in maybe an Agatha Christie book, and thinking, no, that can’t be what it means.

    Liked by 1 person

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