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[whitespace] National Press Takes on the Local 'Scum vs. Swift' Debate

Saratoga--So what's in a name?

A whole lot of ink, in Saratoga's case.

Seven months after then-Saratoga Mayor Don Wolfe had hoped to end the controversy over the translation of the city's name, the debate continues outside Saratoga's borders--and inside the pages of Harper's Bazaar.

The New York-based magazine is tentatively scheduled to run a story on Saratoga's quest for the true translation of its name in its February 1999 issue, said Wolfe, who was contacted by the magazine two weeks ago.

For years, the accepted translation of "Saratoga" was thought by many residents to be "floating scum upon the water," as was stated in historian Florence Cunningham's book, Saratoga's First Hundred Years. Cunningham said the city's name was an Iroquois word, and cited "an official New York state publication" as her source for the translation.

But in May, Wolfe passed a Mayor's Proclamation declaring the official translation of the city's name to be "hillside country, place of swift water." For his translation, Wolfe cited about five different historical sources in Saratoga Springs, the city from which the California city got its name.

Wolfe said he began researching the word shortly after he moved to Saratoga and learned of the accepted translation. The New York native said his memories of the Hudson River--where Saratoga's namesake was originally located--didn't include memories of floating scum.

Since Wolfe's declaration in May, the topic has spilled over from the pages of local newspapers to earn ink in publications around the country, thanks, in part, to an Associated Press news release, Wolfe said. And Wolfe himself has been tapped to discuss the issue on radio by stations in Florida and Canada.

So why all the interest in what Saratoga calls itself?

"Because the press likes a bloodless controversy," Wolfe said, pointing out that although local historians and civic leaders are still divided on the issue of translation, the debate has always been friendly. "It has a human interest aspect from a small town that the press craves around the nation. It's a feel-good controversy."

"But we may not be able to do it," she adds.
Sarah Lombardo

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Web extra to the December 10-16, 1998 issue of Metro.

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