Foreign Words
1:00 pm
Wed September 6, 2006

Foreign Words

The national debate over whether English should be the official U.S. language has moved closer to home. In recent weeks, members of local government in Matthews and Landis have tried to push English-only ordinances. WFAE commentator Sally Phillips shares her thoughts on the matter.

Immigrant Words

There's quite a hullabaloo brewing about the one nation one language issue (oh, and by the way, hullabaloo is a Scottish word). Cleary, there's a lot of angst (that's a German word) about having English as our official language. I chalk it all up to a large dose of xenophobia (Greek word) which flies in the face of everything that this country is about. Over the years, our daily lingo (Portuguese word) has been infiltrated by words from other languages with each stampede (Spanish word) of immigrants. And from my vantage (French) point, that's just fine.

Apparently I'm not unique (French) in my propensity to use foreign words in my everyday language. You can't pick up a newspaper or magazine (French) without seeing words like karma (Sanskrit), zeitgeist (German), keiretsu (Japanese) or cartel (French, German & Italian). Just as an example, on the front page of today's Charlotte Observer, I observed fiancee (French), bazaar (Urdu), Islam (Arabic), minority (French), majority (also French) and interview (French). And really, can you imagine living with out sudoku (Japanese), tortillas (Spanish) or Pilates (German)?

Suppose Congress succeeded in putting an embargo (Spanish) on foreign words? What do you think would happen? No one would ever get a job, because the word interview (French) would become taboo (Tongan). There'd be no kindergarten (German) for our 5 year olds; the sky (Norse) would be that big Carolina blue mass above us; the Hoover Dam (Dutch) would be the Hoover big-water-regulating-thing; and the counseling industry would have no phobias (Greek) with which to help their clients. In addition we'd have no pizzas, pianos or balconies (Italian); no tomatoes, coyotes or chocolate (Nahuatl); no glasnost, borscht or babushkas (Russian); no bungalows, verandahs (Hindi) or chakras (Sanskrit); and no spiels, shticks or tchachkas (Yiddish).

I wonder if these political minions (French) who are trying to make English our fait accompli (French) tuned into the national spelling bee earlier this summer like millions of us did. If they had, they would have been caught up in the emotion (French) of these young and simpatico (Spanish) intelligentsia (Russian) and their incredible command of words from a variety of languages. As a matter of fact, I conducted a very unscientific analysis (Greek) of 44 of the eclectic (Greek) words in the final rounds: roughly 20% had vague (French) origin; 10% had Latin or English etymological (Greek) roots; and the rest, almost 70%, represented 10 other languages including Arabic, German, French, Italian and Turkish. There was also one onomatopoeia (Greek).
If the abilities of the young spellers are an indication of what we hold dear, then it is incumbent upon us not to give our legislators carte blanche (French) when it comes to our language. Really, could we live with out joie de vie (French)?
Oh and just in case you were keeping track, of the 263 words I just used, 51 of them or roughly 20% were liberally borrowed from French, Scottish, German, Greek, Portuguese, Spanish, Japanese, Italian, Urdu, Arabic, Tongan, Dutch, Nahuatl, Russian, Hindi and Yiddish. Do you know which is which?

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