Have you too got a bee in your bonnet?
Here’s the rest of last week’s essay, which began with Doctor Who being polite to any children without nannies by anglicizing a name of a dead white male.
When I studied scientific Greek and Latin science vocabulary while taking a career major at university—the closest I could come to taking a liberal arts course—I learned many “proper” ways among white lab coat people to make things plural…One octopus, two octopi; one datum, two data; one spaghetto, two spaghetti.
…But when I talk with regular practical people, I normally make a plural by simply adding S.
I suppose “being practical” explains why English speakers use so few syllables compared to everybody else. (I asked a linguistics major why so few syllables, but he didn’t know) Another word shortener, I think, is the standard default to put the accent on the first syllable. Which has the added bonus of making English nice for singing popular songs. At least, that’s what a famous Swedish group said. They thought it was practical to just take the first letter from each of their names to give their band a nice short two-syllable title.
When I was a boy my brother Jim taught me to say the fuzzy name Jean Val Jean, a name which buzzes on your tongue, sounding fun to say, like the name of Pooh’s friend, Tigger. (Not Teeger) Therefore when I read a children’s story, in English, of poor Jean Val Jean doing years in prison for stealing one loaf of bread, I made an exception for his name… but not for everybody else in the book. And I did not call the author Veectwa Yugo. No. In Victor Hugo’s world I read everyone’s name in English. You hear what I’m saying? I Anglicized their names… according to our traditional default.
Speaking of Jean Val Jean, and practical defaults, our NATO forces, with lives at stake, are eminently practical: In a Quebec army base where I was stationed, “Saint Jean,” was pronounced “Saint Jeen” to avoid mistakes. And to default Anglicize, of course. Similarly, during the Second World War, to avoid any mistakes from confusing Iraq and Iran, the allied forces changed their maps to make the latter “Persia.”
Of course, in any language, unless you speak Esperanto, there will always be some exceptions… Being polite means not making new ones gratuitously. Call me old fashioned, but it’s only common sense to anglicize everything that’s not nailed down. And besides, as a North American, anglicizing is my culture, my Traditional Culture. It’s a humble culture, as honest as bread and butter: I won’t pronounce Paris as the French do… unless I’m joking, “How do you keep them down on the farm after they’ve seen gay Paree?”
“But wait!” cries a voice from the peanut gallery. “Speaking of Hugo and the classics, ooh, I just loved reading War and Peace, by Tolstoy, and so I ask you: Won’t it hurt those people’s feelings to Anglicize their names?”
Surely the answer’s obvious: No, not if they overhear me speaking English. Not if they are thousands of miles away in Russia, and hundreds of years away in time, and only fictional characters to begin with… Oh all right, sometimes I will compromise while they’re still alive, but I tell you: Once they’re dead? They’re Anglicized!
Remember that president and war hero “of France,”—“De Gaulle?”—I like the pun—the fellow who wanted Britain kept out of the EU? And France out of NATO? Today no one in London calls him Sharlez De Gaulle. Except folks inside the French embassy, and even they respect British culture, calling him Charles, if they meet you outside in Trafalgar Square.
Unfortunately, there will always be some who see themselves as being in the “jet set,” the elite, the ones like Canada’s Justin Trudeau who believe in us being without traditions and without roots. Before Brexit, they were the ones in Britain who wanted Britain to replace the pound sterling with the Eurodollar. So they could jet to “the continent” easily. They would be the same guys who now wish to multiply the sheer number of exceptions to memorize. This at the expense of their rural cousins down the highway, as my brother Jim drives his truck.
I can only guess why.
I imagine folks who can afford to fly instead of riding the greyhound are carrying a two-sided coin: On the one side, snobbery; on the other, fear. Snobbery of thinking that people who grew up in house trailers or, like my brother, on a little farm, somehow don’t wash enough and somehow, supposedly, don’t realize how foreigners pronounce their foreign words…. Fear of being like my brother, yes, and also a fear of their peers: their fellow guilty white liberals. Fear of not being “Politically Correct.”
Rubbish! I can remember when PC was confined to Marxist study groups, back when Politically Correct communists would translate Russian directly to English, and then be puzzled as to why the rest of us couldn’t work up any concern about being “imperialist lackeys” or “running dogs.” If you wish to “bring on the revolution,” then you would do best to stick to your roots. To humble Anglicizing.
My own roots? Mom has high school, Dad dropped out before the war to help his family—I am the only one of six kids in my family with a university degree: I guess this makes me an honorary member of the middle class. And that’s fine by me—Except I just can’t do the “guilty white liberal” thing. I don’t mind smart people: Some of my best friends have degrees. I don’t mind wealth: Some of my best friends are rich. Of course they are, since I live in a wealthy oil town, complete with ethnic diversity from skilled workers moving in—who Anglicize, just as I do.
What I mind is when elite snobs wimp out, giving in to their fear, distorting our traditional Anglicizing culture, committing their “micro aggressions” against honest people like my brother. I don’t like it when they try to make Canada into a place to live that is more complicated and more sexist, less practical and less democratic.
…Well dear reader, that’s enough writing for today. Maybe I’ll go off to read a children’s book of tongue twisters, The Fox in Sox by that nice Dr. Seuss. Come to think of it, he’s the one who wrote against snobbery in The Star Belly Sneetches….
In cowboy country
Today guys like my brother Jim can easily learn about art and science just by tapping on their keyboard. But Jim surely won’t think to memorize all those fancy plurals. He’ll just use a practical “s.” Well then. Should we college graduate-types be scolding Jim? Scolding Jim into being politically correct and proper with his plurals… or shall we let him use his “s” and thereby, as with Anglicizing, open up our language to everybody? …
~ Speaking of nannies, I met a nanny once. In my night school drama class. She was blond, not dark haired like Miss Poppins. No talking parrot umbrella handle. I’m sure nannies are more common back east where, according to rumor, mansions come with a “nanny apartment.”
~On my first literary holiday to England, the one where I traced the Martians of H.G. Wells, I visited the London Zoo. The first thing I asked at the information desk was, “Where would Mary Poppins take the children?”
… They still have an empty penguin slide they can’t get rid of: It’s a heritage site.
As I waited to print this, I found an Edmonton (population one million-ish) newspaper opinion piece. It seems a woman—no doubt an ivory tower graduate—wishes to put a wrongly spelled, tongue twisting, aboriginal name on an urban Edmonton street.
Ostensibly, she wishes to have a street name that sounds like the indigenes folks away over the horizon. But given her scolding tone, I sense her wish is not from any bountiful love of our traditional culture, and not from any sense of tongue twisting fun.
When I think of her disagreeable tone, then despite her fancy degree, I would never want her as a nanny for my children. Why? Easy: Because she’s no fun.