I was writing my response at the same time Richard was writing his, and independently of Richard. We certainly agree. Here's what I've written:
This is a very good question, Susan.
In English-speaking countries, people use the word ‘mecca’ to refer to the center of something important. I think most of us have always used it without thinking that it might be considered disrespectful by people to whom Mecca has a religious significance. Most of us know that it has that religious significance; when we use it to refer to an important center of something, the word means that people are drawn to the center of an idea or an ideal, like a magnet, like people are drawn to Mecca. As you know, the word mecca
used in this sense is certainly not intended to be disrespectful in any way.
Here is the definition from the Merriam-Webster Unabridged*:mecca
Inflected Form(s): -s
Usage: often capitalized
Etymology: from mecca
, Saudi Arabia, birthplace of Muhammad and holy city of Islam
1 : a place regarded as the center of an activity or interest or as the goal of its practitioners or connoisseurs a white frame building that is the mecca of trout fishermen from all over the nation …he was good, good enough to play the Armistice day taps at Arlington, the mecca of all army buglers …London ... bookstores spell mecca for the collector and manna for the reader
From the Chicago Manual of Style**:Mecca
is capitalized when referring to the Islamic holy city, as is Utopia
when referring to Thomas More’s imaginary country. Both are lowercased when used metaphorically. …Stratford-upon-Avon is a mecca for Shakespeare enthusiasts.
She is trying to create a utopia for her children.
There are many examples in the current press, like these from the New York Times:
• When and why did Rockaway stop being the summertime mecca
for New York ... Vince , Rockaway began to ebb as a summer mecca
for New York City ..
• Fort Greene is Brooklyn's latest culinary mecca
, or it's a bastion of African- American pride and culture, or the artistic center of the ...
• Once one of Europe's poorest cities, the Irish capital has recently become a business mecca
. Above: the old-school pub Bernard Shaw attracts the cool crowd. ..
And these from the BBC:
• I grew up around the Isle of Man which is a mecca
for motor sports and to be a professional was a big ambition. Team building is a big part of my world.
• For many people after Christmas, the gym is a mecca
for anyone wanting to lose the festive flab. I realise that weight is a vital issue for many women, and men...
• Wrexham is and always will be a mecca
for talented musos and bands. Wrexham was and still is the "mecca
" of musical activity.
The word ‘mecca’ is from the Arabic. Other common words in English from Arabic are, for example, algebra, sheriff, tariff, coffee, giraffe, jar, saffron
. There are many more. There are newer words today that we have learned recently: mullah, fatwa, burka
, for example.
Linguistically, it is interesting to see how words are ‘borrowed’ from one language into another, and how the meanings evolve. The original Mecca is something concrete; now the non-religious idea of mecca expresses the essence of the original Mecca, but instead represents the idea of something with a similar characteristic, even though it is something different.
I think that ‘mecca’ used in the non-religious sense has no disrespectful meaning at all. It would be interesting to know if any of our members to whom the word Mecca
has an important religious meaning feels offended if you hear or see mecca
used in this lay sense by English-speakers. If that is true, I will use the word more circumspectly.
*"mecca." Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002. http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com
(31 Aug. 2009).
**The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th Edition. The University of Chicago Press 2003