English as a second-hand language

By Jim Mullen

The pundits that say emigrants to this country should have carte blanche to speak whatever language they choose don’t realize we may end up speaking an awkward patois of many languages. How would we ever get anything done?

If not for a small cadre of broadcasters who made a big brouhaha of the issue, we might lose the cachet of our mother tongue. These language vigilantes should receive kudos. Does anyone really have the chutzpah to think there is a better language in the entire world than English? People who don’t want to learn English when they come to this country should be personae non-gratis.

Why stop there? Should Americans have to live in states with Spanish or Indian names like Montana, Florida, California, Texas, Delaware, Nebraska, Nevada and Colorado? Practically the only state in the country with an English name is New Mexico. It makes you wonder if the people who named our states were linguistic dilettantes guilty of misfeasance.



There are foreign words all over this country. Why are we leaving our hearts in San Francisco and not St. Francis? Why are we riding the Atkinson, Topeka and Santa Fe instead of the Atkinson, Topeka and the Holy Faith? Why did they call it “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” instead of “Planes, Trains and Cars?” I guess they were hoping bilingual intellectuals would mistake it for a French art film.

If it were up to me, we’d give everything English names, and pronto. Can’t we come up with an English word for deja vu? A better word? I recently visited my alma mater and most of the alumni I met on the ante bellum campus felt the same way.

“Can there be any better argument for making English our official language than our own money?” said one frat brother. “It says ‘E Pluribus Unum’ right on it. What kind of foreign mumbo-jumbo is that? The Senate should set up an ad hoc committee to look into it. They should subpoena some witnesses to set the record straight. It should be de rigueur that our schools teach English only.”

And that is verbatim. The man is quite a raconteur. He entertained our entire ensemble without once resorting to risque material or double entendres – a complete quid pro quo scenario: he spoke, we listened.

As a connoisseur of English, I’m filled with chagrin that some of our brightest students are ill-prepared for life’s odyssey because they lack the proper language skills. Some students don’t even know which of our words are kosher and which are ersatz. We should start teaching them in kindergarten.

Maybe we should appoint a language tsar to make sure that a lot of foreign words don’t creep into English, it’d be very apropos. We really need to clean up our act. But then, is it really legitimate for us to even consider the need another bureaucrat?

Or maybe someone should just invent a word-processing program that italicizes all foreign words, making them easy to spot, extirpate and, quite possibly, even eliminate.

Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life” and “Baby’s First Tattoo.” You can reach him at jim_mullen@myway.com

Copyright 2006, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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