July 9, 2010 in City

Language filled with impurities

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The Bonner County GOP is going to have to get busy.

After all, when you accept the mission of purifying the language, you can’t merely banish “fiesta” from your booth at the fair.

Heavens, no. If you want to support the snowy white English language, you’re going to have to go after “rodeo,” too. And there better not be any frozen, chocolate-covered “bananas” for sale. And the spun-sugar candy will need to be called something other than “cotton,” given the old French roots of that word. Hamburgers are out, of course. All those Germanic overtones.

The fair won’t be the same, but it will be all English.

So long as you count Olde English.

Purifying the language is tough work, but ever so important. Sometimes, when we’re not vigilant, mistakes can be made. Such as the decision to make “Fiesta at the Fair” the theme of the upcoming Bonner County Fair and Equine-Bovine-Riding -Roping-Competition.

The county Republican Party sent a letter to the governor of Arizona – motto: Show us your papers, brown ones – asking for AZ license plates to display at the fair as a show of solidarity, and proudly stating they would use the word “celebrate” instead of fiesta at their booth.

Cornel Rasor, GOP central committee chairman and Bonner County commissioner, signed the letter, but he’s not all that eager to take credit for it. When we talked Thursday morning, he seemed a little stung about the whole fiasco (oops, Italian roots; kerfuffle?). The letter has been the subject of coverage in this paper and others, as well as online. He says he’s been unfairly labeled a racist.

“I objected to the objection to ‘fiesta,’ ” he said. “I thought it was silly myself. The simple fact was we were looking for a way to support Arizona.”

I asked Rasor to put me in touch with those who didn’t think the idea was silly. I waited by the phone, but none of them called. I don’t know, guys. If you’re going to go full stupid, there’s no point in backing off. It suggests a lack of conviction. And while I can sympathize with Rasor, I can’t sympathize much: He signed the thing.

In a news report, Rasor said the difference between fiesta and celebrate was really just spelling. They’re simply synonyms.

Good point! It got me thinking there are lots of synonyms we could use, instead of miscegenating the Mother Tongue with words other people used first.

I think the folks in Coeur d’Alene will be excited to press forward with the city’s new name: Heart of the Awl.

Pend Oreille County will be thrilled to call itself Hangs from Ear County. Rasor himself could work on renaming that big old body of water in Bonner County: Lake Hangs from Ear. We’ll change Boise to Wooded. Montana to Mountain. Colorado to Reddish.

But what about Idaho? That’s a toughie. Years ago, we were taught in fourth-grade Idaho history that the name came from the Indian word ee-da-how, meaning “gem of the mountains” or “morning light” or “English only” or something. That would be bad enough if it were true, but the fact is the name was made up by white dudes.

They actually invented a non-English name for the state. It’s enough to make you sick.

But now it’s time to focus on the future. I have prepared a list of the places the purity brigade can begin. There’s been a lot of word-mixing over the years – a Spanish vocabulo crawls into the tent here, a French mot tiptoes through a side flap there – and it’s going to take some doing to root them all out.

There’ll be no more going to the “cafeteria,” and no more eating of “avocados,” “chocolate,” “anchovies.” No more “barbecues” on “patios.” No “chili,” “cocoa,” “daiquiris.” No “tuna,” “tomatoes,” “tapioca.”

“Tacos” and “burritos”? Shut your mouth.

No more “lassoing” “mustangs” at “ranches.” No “stampedes.” No “wranglers” or “burros” or “corrals.”

Once you start looking, you find all sorts of unbecoming words of Spanish origin in the woodpile. Alligator, barracuda, canyon, hurricane, hoosegow, jaguar, mosquito …

Some of our most treasured racial slurs derive, ironically, from screwed-up interpretations of other languages. Pickaninny comes from pequeño, Spanish for “little.” Dago is thought to be a misbegotten descendent of Diego. Wop is a bastardization from the Italian.

Really, people. There’s no point raising your bigot flag in some foreign language. Is that what we’re all about, here in America?

No. What we’re all about is English. There’s just something about that Mother Tongue. Though, now that I think about it, doesn’t English come from another country? Isn’t it the tongue of tyranny? Doesn’t it represent all we broke away from, lo those many years ago, when we told King George to stick it and sent the redcoats packing?

Maybe I’ve got that wrong. In any case, there’s no time to stop and think about it. There’s work to do. Like that Idaho license plate? Famous Potatoes?

I hate to tell you this, but it’s got to go. “Famous” comes from France, of all places. And “potato”? That one has Spanish roots, too – the word and the thing itself.

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@spokesman.com.


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