Comment Of The Day: “Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 12/30/2018: A Petition, A Career-Killing Joke, And Priestley’s Play” [Item #4]

P.M.Lawrence, who comments from Australia, often flagging what he views as American biases and misconceptions, jumps ahead in the line of waiting Comments of the Day with this brief note. It raises an issue that I have thought about often in the past, and argued about with friends and others. What is the ethical obligation of Americans to use foreign spellings of proper names when writing about places and things for domestic readers? The particular example at hand was my using “Labor Party” to label the British organization which calls itself “the Labour Party.”

I’ll have a rebuttal after P.M.s Comment on the post, Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 12/30/2018: A Petition, A Career-Killing Joke, And Priestley’s Play , and am very interested in what others think.

A minor point: the original spelling of proper names should be used out of respect, even if that is different from your own usage of the words involved. Just as it would be wrong to write “National Inquirer”, so also it is wrong to write “Labor” when writing of the (British) “Labour Party” – even though it is right to write “Australian Labor Party”, for the very same reasons. It gets trickier with groups like our Australian DLP (“Democratic Labour Party”) that have chopped and changed over time; I incline towards using whichever spelling was in place at the time of the reference being cited.

This is all part of the Rectification of Names.

I’m back. This issue is complicated, as P.M. notes.  “Labour” is a great place to start. There is no word in America spelled “labour,” and proper or not, the British party called “Labour” is, in American spelling, about “labor.” It is not only accurate to use the domestic spelling, it is clearer. The Shakespeare comedy is called “Love’s Labour’s Lost” in the UK, but I checked with the Folger Shakespeare Company, D.C’s authority: they use “Love’s Labor’s Lost,” though not every Bard-centered company here agrees. If the word involved has two spellings in use here, then it makes no sense not to use the UK version. My now defunct theater company was named “The American Century Theater” because it was devoted to American works; it made no sense to use the British spelling “theatre”—which is still common here and popular with pompous theatrical companies—when the repertoire was pointedly American. I would expect any British media to also preserve our chosen spelling.

The spelling issue quickly slides into pronunciation. Somehow the globalists bullied people into calling Eye-RAN,  which what I grew up saying, ir-RAAN. Why? This isn’t Iran. We don’t call Paris “Pa-REE” (this is my wife’s favorite argument.)

P.M.’s “National Enquirer” analogy doesn’t fly with me. It is true that the British use “enquire’ the way we use “inquire,” but 1) the two words technically have different meanings (“The traditional distinction between the verbsenquire and inquire is that enquire is to be used for general senses of ‘ask’, while inquire is reserved for uses meaning ‘make a formal investigation’.”) and 2) it’s exactly like “theatre/theatre.” Since both versions are used here and across the Pond, clear and understandable, a choice in a proper name should be respected. Moreover, in U.S. trademark law (and I assume in the UK as well) “The National Inquirer” could be a separate legal entity from the “Enquirer.”

Hmmmm. Nothing’ stopping someone from forming a “Labour Party” here either. Maybe P.L. is right….

21 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 12/30/2018: A Petition, A Career-Killing Joke, And Priestley’s Play” [Item #4]

  1. Frankly, outside of legal or scholarly documents, unless there is a risk of inaccuracy, insisting on UK vs. American spelling and preferred pronunciations is something between snobbery and yet another attempt to exert control over others by controlling what they can and can’t say.

    • I agree exactly. I would expect the distinction to be important in those fields, but in common usage, I’d never attempt to force the issue one way or the other. However, as an American, I’d use the British spellings if I had the presence of mind to think of it.

  2. I think it makes sense to use “Labour”, if only because it would make housekeeping articles simpler. For instance, “Labor.com” redirects to a workforce management company, whereas “Labour.com” redirects to the party’s official UK website. If you quote from British publications, they would talk about the “Labour Party”, but if your commentary is about the “Labor Party” elsewhere on the site, there is an avoidable ambiguity.

  3. I’m satisfied if I can get the general gist of what people write these days; I’m not teaching any more but I’m still fond of communicating. Not everyone who comments here has “good” spelling but that has nothing to do with their inspiring content. I would hate to see them
    discouraged.
    That done with (controlling snob that I am), I use the spelling of words and the names of the people and places I am writing to or of that “belong” to them . As far as possible, I change style or pronunciation (never mastered the click language sounds Miriam Makeba sang in, though) to accommodate others’ preferences. However, I too have niggles. For instance, I draw a stiff line at being commanded to state, wear a badge with or write my “personal gender pronouns” beneath my email signature. (The first, and last, time I was asked to do that, I wrote “it, that, and that’s it.” I continue to assume the person’s gender is what they look like, unless they dress as if they aren’t sure. I have no trouble with being corrected, and use the preferred pronouns thereafter, unless I forget, in which case I will apologize as I would when I mispronounce the name of someone who is sensitive about it. Selectivity in titles is a fine art as well. The Japanese have clear rules which make it kid-simple. Not so in most other cultures I know of. Of all languages, body language is the hardest to master, for either use or recognition.

    My own last name is frequently garbled to the extent of changing it to another name altogether. I have a young acquaintance and sometime coworker of 30+ years who hasn’t said or spelled (“spelt” to you PL) it correctly yet. I only fall ponderously into the “P as in Poison, E as in Elephant” alphabet when having a quiet, unemotional confabulation with an AT&T supervisor.

    That is part of what has been called “civil discourse” here that I was raised and educated to do. And I don’t think there is anything pompous about “theatre” and use it to reference stage rather than cinema because that is what I grew up with. Google a “list of Broadway theaters” and see what you get.

    The Labor/Labour example was not one of spelling. In terms of politics they might as well go under different names. For instance, we have unions but we do not have a “workers party” (yes, the members vote, but pretty much locally, without much if any backup from a national organization and they use their own political clout locally as well). In fact, our real “workers” (among other citizens) were called “deplorables” by a mean and ignorant woman not so long ago. The “oUr” organization is more along the lines of the IWW or early AFL-CIO., more prone to action, and action which usually gets national backup that includes many different unions even for local strike situations that can shut down the country, where unions here are pretty much on their own, and getting weaker every year.

    The labor/labour distinction is pretty obvious, but other country-to-country pairs have subtle to extreme differences too, (ex: try talking loudly about your bitch in New Jersey). PL is being extremely polite, referring to the Rectification of Names. I didn’t know what it was (everyone else here may so pardon me for adding to the verbosity), but it was pragmatic philosopher Confucius who said — the mythical Western comic book Confucius would say “he say” and think that was hilarious — because he thought that much social disorder comes from the wrong names being used to describe groups of people, and that we should “rectify the names” to make words correspond to reality, to find out the correct designations and relationships and behave accordingly to ensure social harmony.

    Thus “mean and ignorant” is the new rectification of she who was previously the dog’s sister to she who is not the cat’s mother — until she apologizes to the nation. Oh, and nobody who is not Parisian says “Pah-reee” for fear a true Parisian will overhear and, with a Pah-reezian glance, turn them into a pillar of saltpeter- (or saltpetre with l’accent aigu over the first “e”) -and- put hieroglyphics around their merde just to be a controlling snob.

  4. There are literally thousands of words that have first been Anglicized from the French, e.g., and thousands more that have been Americanized from both British English, French, and a host of other languages. American English is the most dynamic language in the world,and has added more than 25,000 words to English and other languages in this century alone. So if we want to Americanize archaic British spellings, who cares? Americans invented the cell phone, for example, but the British call them “mobiles.” That’s their choice, and I don’t see anyone complaining about that, even though it was not just a spelling but a completely different word for the same device. (I suppose I would call the line at actual people names… that’s an actual personal identity issue…)

    For some documentation of this kind of thing, Bill Bryson has written a series of breezy but substantive books about both British and American English language and history. Worth a read.

    • So if we want to Americanize archaic British spellings, who cares?

      The point here is that it is not an “archaic British spelling”, it’s a current proper name and helps connect to things that are out there. I also see the appositeness of an earlier comment about searches and such; we’re trying figuratively or literally to make a search connection when we use a proper name. (Similar things apply to being faithful in quotations; when I proof read and fact checked a few chapters of Geoffrey Blainey’s History of the World a few years ago, I didn’t think it was fitting to change a quoted poem’s “cock” to “rooster” the way he had.) But the objections are sound when there are traditional English variants already (“Rome”, “Florence”, “Leghorn”, etc.), largely because the respect issue doesn’t come up in the same way and because the references do work with those variants (“Foghorn Livorno”, anybody?).

      But hey, why bother with capital letters at all? Why not go the whole hog with “labor party”?

      • Ultima Thule: a traditional name of distant places beyond the known world.

        I live in Colombia but I admit to desire to visit Coluuuuumbia . . .

        “Where can I find people who have forgotten words, and have a word with them?”

        You have to admit that this opens up into many many different strange and interesting areas!

        So if we want to Americanize archaic British spellings, who cares?

        Cristoforo Colombo wrote:

        “As I know that you will be pleased at the great victory with which Our Lord has crowned my voyage, I write this to you, from which you will learn how in thirty-three days, I passed from the Canary Islands to the Indies with the fleet which the most illustrious king and queen, our sovereigns, gave to me. And there I found many islands filled with people innumerable, and of them all I have taken possession for their highnesses, by proclamation made and with the royal standard unfurled, and no opposition was offered to me. To the first island which I found, I gave the name San Salvador, in remembrance of the Divine Majesty, Who has marvelously bestowed all this; the Indians call it ‘Guanahani‘. To the second, I gave the name Isla de Santa María de Concepción; to the third, Fernandina; to the fourth, Isabella, to the fifth, Isla Juana, and so to each one I gave a new name.”

        Fast-forward to another, yet pessimistic, European visitor:

        “It is a world completely rotten with wealth, power, senility, indifference, puritanism and mental hygiene, poverty and waste, technological futility and aimless violence, and yet I cannot help but feel it has about it something of the dawning of the universe. Perhaps because the entire world continues to dream of New York, even as New York dominates and exploits it.”

        ― Jean Baudrillard, América

        Maighstir Lawrence writes: “A minor point: the original spelling of proper names should be used out of respect, even if that is different from your own usage of the words involved. Just as it would be wrong to write “National Inquirer”, so also it is wrong to write “Labor” when writing of the (British) “Labour Party” – even though it is right to write “Australian Labor Party”, for the very same reasons. It gets trickier with groups like our Australian DLP (“Democratic Labour Party”) that have chopped and changed over time; I incline towards using whichever spelling was in place at the time of the reference being cited.

        This is all part of the Rectification of Names.”

        From Wiki re: ‘Rectification of Names’: “Confucius was asked what he would do if he was a governor. He said he would “rectify the names” to make words correspond to reality. The phrase has now become known as a doctrine of feudal Confucian designations and relationships, behaving accordingly to ensure social harmony. Without such accordance society would essentially crumble and “undertakings would not be completed.” Mencius extended the doctrine to include questions of political legitimacy.”

        “Nets are for catching fish; after one gets the fish, one forgets the net. Traps are for catching rabbits; after one gets the rabbit, one forgets the trap. Words are for getting meaning; after one gets the meaning, one forgets the words. Where can I find people who have forgotten words, and have a word with them?”

        — Zhuangzi, Ch. 26

        Confucius: “A superior man, in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve. If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music do not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot. Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect.”

        It is interesting how, in América today, we are seeing a great ‘confusion of tongues’ and a breakdown of the designations of relationship on which *social harmony* is said to be built. And that “without such accordance society would essentially crumble and “undertakings would not be completed.”

        What is the mind’s Ultima Thule? What substance must be regarded as first, and therefore as the seed of the universe? What is the eternal Something, of which the temporal is but a manifestation? Matter? Spirit? Matter and Spirit? Something behind both and from which they have sprung, neither Matter nor Spirit, but their Creator? Or is there in reality neither Matter nor Spirit, but only an agnostic Cause of the phenomena erroneously assigned by us to body and mind?

        After spending many years in profoundly investigating this problem, I have at last struck bottom. Unhesitatingly and unconditionally I adopt materialism, and declare it to be the sole and all-sufficient explanation of the universe. This affords the only thoroughly scientific system; and nowhere but in its legitimate conclusions can thought find suitable resting-place, the heart complete satisfaction, and life a perfect basis. Unless it accepts this system, philosophy will be but drift-wood, instead of the stream of thought whose current bears all truth. Materialism, thorough, consistent, and fearless, not the timid, reserved, and half-hearted kind, is the hope of the world.

        ‘The Final Science: or Spiritual Materialism’, 1885 by John Henry Wilbrandt Stuckenberg 1835-1903

        Today, a spacecraft approaches an object a loooooonnnnggggg way off. The object is called Ultima Thule.

        From the today’s NYTs:

        “Are you psyched?” said S. Alan Stern, New Horizons’ principal investigator, surrounded by children waving American flags. “Are you jazzed?”

        [As in All That Jazz?!?]

        “We are ready to science the heck out of Ultima Thule”.

  5. Sigh. I firmly believe that English should be written using simplified phonetics (fəˈnɛtɪks anyone!) for the benefit of future generations. Other languages can do as they please of course. For myself I am grudgingly switching to using US spellings because they are a, very small, step in that direction; sometimes. The use of ‘Z’ in ‘ize’ rather than ‘ise’ being a good example, despite the fact y’all can’t say the letters name correctly!

    I made the change from imperial to metric along with the rest of the civilized world and so I’m sure we could all cope with another change or two. For the record, I think we should change from base 10 to dozenal notation; even tough that implies shifting back slightly towards imperial usages.

    Also, I can’t for the life of me see why we don’t call Paris Pa-REE the way Parisiennes do. It seems rude to me to change the name of their capital just because they can’t spell either!

  6. This seems largely much ado about (very nearly) nothing, and/or attempts by some at establishing another category of triggers for the perpetually aggrieved crowd.

    You should write with the intent to provide clarity of comprehension for the expected readership as the main consideration, with as few exceptions as possible (i.e., personal names…usually unlikely to cause confusion, anyway). To do otherwise just invites confusion and inconsistency. You might not trip up a reader by calling the city “Roma”, but do you then go with “Firenze” and hope for the best? Going further, should you use the terms “boot” and “bonnet” when referencing a Jaguar car with Americans (and then say “Jag-u-ar”, if you actually speak about it later)?

    Veering slightly off-topic, has anyone else noticed the tendency of some American news-critters to use Hispanic pronunciations (and sometimes even Hispanic accents) when speaking of people and places south of the U.S. border, but very rarely make similar adjustments for countries in European or the rest of the world?

  7. Is the country Colombia or Columbia?
    That used to drive my Spanish speaking colleagues batty. I like to point out to them that they’re very likely to misspell the US capital district or the river in the Pacific Northwest.

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