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  • Paul Anthony Jones


(n.) a lawless place; somewhere inhabited solely by criminals

A popular tweet this week on HH was the word Alsatia, defined as “a place without laws or inhabited solely by criminals”.

Alsatia is the Latin name for Alsace on the French-German border. Once an independent state, the Thirty Years War from 1618–48 saw Alsace’s population decimated and its independence all but handed over to France.

ancient map of alsatia or alsace

But the French exercised little control over the region, and before long it had fallen into a near constant state of unrest and anarchy—at which point, the name Alsatia hopped, skipped and jumped its way across the English Channel.

At around the same time, over in central London the precinct of Whitefriars was becoming infamous across the city as a home for all manner of unpleasant characters: at the centre of Whitefriars (both geographically and etymologically) was a Carmelite monastery that had been granted the right of sanctuary, meaning that any criminals living nearby were essentially immune to prosecution.

Before long, the entire area had become a magnet for all manner of disreputables and deplorables, which was enough to earn Whitefriars the nickname Alsatia—and enough to introduce a byword for any place of near total criminality to our language. And you can provide your own example of that.


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