Sister Cities

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Have you ever wondered about Albuquerque's "R"?


What ever happened to it, and when did it disappear?




The Famous Missing R



By Jim Belshaw

Albuquerque Journal



     On principle, I have long been in favor of periodic debates about the missing “r” in the Duke City’s name. (Or “Duque City” if you want to up the debate ante.

    What was once Alburquerque has been Albuquerque for a long time. I’m neutral on the missing “r.” If it came back, we’d adjust and we’d still be the preferred speller’s bar bet on casino gambling Web pages. (Google it. You’ll see.)

    The principle in question is that the question can’t be answered. Theories abound on the missing “r” and so the potential for endless debate is great, endless debate being the point for those of us who are more interested in stirring things up than getting questions answered.
    Even now, I wouldn’t be looking at the question of the missing “r” if I hadn’t come across the Prunes Theory of Albuquerque’s name.
    What is it about “prunes” that catches the attention? Just as a general rule, “prunes” seems always to arch an eyebrow.
    Anyway, this all started when my colleague Isabel Sanchez wrote a story about the missing “r” as part of the Journal’s continuing series on Albuquerque’s Tricentennial.
    As readers are wont to do, one dropped an e-mail to the Journal pointing out a detail Isabel had not addressed: “Though the name Alburquerque comes to us from the Iberian Peninsula, it got there through Muslim invaders in A.D. 711, who occupied the lower two-thirds of Spain and finally were routed in 1492,” the reader wrote. “The name was originally ‘Abu al-Qurq,” which means ‘bearer of the cork’ and refers to the tree from which cork is extracted.”
    Interesting, especially in light of a recent Associated Press story that says “Abu al-Qurq” means “town of Christians and Jews,” but nothing about cork.
    All of which led to the Prunes Theory of Albuquerque’s name.
    But first, let’s review quickly some of the well-established, never-settled questions on the missing “r”:

    o  The city was named after Don Francisco Fernandez de la Cueva Enriquez el Duque de Alburquerque. (Everyone see that second “r”?)
    o  Renowned novelist Rudolfo Anaya, who argues we never should have dropped the “r” to begin with, made up a legend in a novel of the same name, “Alburquerque.” He had the “r” disappearing in 1880 when someone had to paint the town’s name on a Santa Fe Railway sign.

    Historians offer differing explanations, and the “r” went through numerous appearances and disappearances. Its most noted reappearance was about 10 years ago, when Mayor Martin Chávez, in his administration during the last century, put the name with the second “r” on trolleys.
    He said the extra “r” would “create dialogue.”
    It did. And debate. And controversy. Letters were written, newspaper stories were written, editorials were written and a correction was written.
    The Journal editorial page, after reflecting on how the city “lost its third ‘r,” asked: “Is Albuquerque ready for a third ‘r’?”
    The next day, someone did the math and wrote a correction asking another question: “How many ‘r’s’ are there in the word ‘embarrassed’?”
    See how this missing “r” business can be a slippery slope?
    Now, about the Prunes Theory.
    On the Web site, the speculative origin story first offers the Abu al-Qurq theory (cork, not Jews and Christians) and then this: “The other (theory) is that it is derived from al-Barquq (‘The Prunes’). The presence of the first ‘r’ supports this. There are also claims that the name is Latin, from Albe Querqus, meaning ‘white oak.’ ‘‘
    Nothing on prunes.
    But over on another Web page, this one from UNM Math and Statistics Department, an informational entry says “al-burquq” is translated as “the plum.”
    And, of course, if you dry out a plum, you get a ... prrune.
    Sorry. Won’t happen again.


© Albuquerque Journal, December 4, 2005. Used by Permission.