Round squares

I encountered a rather amusing translation problem the other day working on a text that discussed various models of urban development. The text spoke of a crescent-shaped housing block (the Royal Crescent in Bath, England) wrapping around a “kreisförmiger Platz.” Now, in English the term Platz means “square,” as in “city square,” which leads one to initially go about translating the above as “circular square” – a wonderful piece of nonsense.“Circular plaza” is a fitting alternative, but one is still left wondering why a city square is necessarily square shaped to begin with. The answer obviously lies in the geometric rigidities of the modern city, as squares in ancient cities are often irregularly shaped. The original Greek word for a city square, in fact, was plateia, from which the German term Platz, Spanish plaza and English “place” were all derived. Square à la city square is of modern origin.

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