So I was scanning the news feeds and I came across this article about how the Republican party is splitting in two ideological directions. One faction, the Florida Model calls for more moderate views and reaching out to swing voters. The Texas Model says the GOP should consolidate around a staunch right wing agenda as far and as differentiated from the Democratic Party as possible. But what really caught my attention was a synopsis of the 2008 Texas GOP platform, which outlines the issues the Texas Model is rallying around. Among the planks in that platform: “We support adoption of American English as the official language of Texas and of the United States.” Oh, I’m aware of the danger those tricky newcomers pose with their refusal to speak perfect English two weeks after arriving here. You take a stroll to a place like San Francisco’s Mission District where most of the billboards are in Spanish and Hey Presto! before you know it, you’re singing “La Cucaracha”. Do I even need to enumerate the insidious danger of bi-lingual instructions? Hey, I signed up for a Spanish course at the community college, so they’ve already got me.
Now granted, I’m not that educated on the issue. I was under the impression that English was the language of the United States. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t all government business — from the Oval Office to neighborhood association meetings — conducted in English? If English is not “official”, it’s at least de facto. I mean, can you name me anyone who’s risen to the top of any profession here or is enjoying any sort of success who DOESN’T speak fluent English? Okay, besides Salma Hayek. Still, I foolishly thought that most immigrants were desperately trying to learn English. At least the huge crowds in the English As A Second Language classes at San Francisco Community College would seem to say so. (Although in the early stage of the classes, I’m sure the students appreciate the bilingual signs to the bathrooms. I know I do as I’m sure it’s saved some embarrassment.)
Anyway, what caught my attention was the specification of AMERICAN English. Not just English, and apparently, not Pigeon English or Australian English or Spanglish or any other flavor of English. But AMERICAN English. Okay, that’s touching a raw nerve. You think that growing Hispanic population is threatening our ability to keep speaking our native tongue? Let me tell you about the British. After nearly thirty years over here, Andy still has the plummiest English accent this side of a Merchant Ivory adaptation of an E.M Forster novel. He’s married to an American, he works surrounded by Americans. But like most immigrants, at least according to what I’m hearing from the Texas Republicans, he’s not only clinging ferociously to his language, he’s forcing native-born Americans to adapt to HIS needs. You think I’m talking just his accent? No, I’m talking a whole different language than the “American English” the Texas GOP wants to make official.
Can I tell you how many times I’ve gotten to the grocery store and stood in confusion because I can’t remember the American words for the foods Brits call Courgettes and Aubergines? It’s an outrage, I tell you.
Here’s where the Brits are far more dangerous than even those insidious Hispanics: they don’t just speak a different language, they further confuse matters with a secret subset of that language.
Yes, I’m talking about Cockney Rhyming Slang which Andy and our predominately British cast of friends lapse into without warning. You can find all about CRS here, but in a nutshell, it was an argot developed by underworld denizens of London’s famous East End to confound cops and informers. The basic premise is that you come up with a rhyme for a word. Like Apples and Pears for Stairs and Plates of Meat for Feet. Then you really confuse matters by sometimes (but not always) dropping off the rhyming bit. Thus Andy often announces it’s time for bed by saying he’s going to “take me plates up the apples to Bedfordshire”. (Bedfordshire, not being rhyming slang, but just another weird Britishism.) Now some Cockney Rhyming Slang is as quaintly Victorian as a Dickens novel. Say Syrup, which is short for Syrup of Figs (Wig), Barnet, short for Barnet Fair (Hair). Butchers, short for Butcher’s Hook (look). Put it all together and it will make your head spin: “Take a quick Butcher’s at the Syrup on that bloke. Better to have no Barnet.”
But just when you think you’ve got the hang of it, Rhyming Slang changes with modern references, which somehow all Englishmen transmit to each other by osmosis. So you have Becks and Posh for Nosh, which itself is an English slang word for food, comparable to “eats”. (And if you don’t know who Becks and Posh are, this whole post is lost on you.) The same site I referenced before has a pretty good Dick’n’Arry (Dictionary) of terms, but I still can’t keep up with it. As cute and quaint as you might find this, it’s only funny until you find yourself yelling at Bill O’Reilly on the screen and accusing him of “telling Porkies” (Porky Pies, Lies). Or, worse yet, understanding when your husband talks about his “Trouble”, he’s referring to YOU (Trouble and Strife, Wife).
Yes, these foreigners must be stopped. I’m here to tell you, it’s a slippery slope and I’ve been pushed down it. My question is: what’s the enforcement? Deportation seems a little harsh for slipping into Cockney Rhyming Slang or any other non-sanctioned form of English. After all, the non-native born in my life do provide many things, not least of which is a certain amusement factor. Fines, too, would be draconian. How about a re-education program? Okay, all violators will be sentenced to American English Immersion. Since there may be some question as to what is “American” English, I say we expose them to a broad spectrum. They have to navigate Marge Gunderson’s “Ya sure, ya betcha” in Fargo, then master Valley Girl in Clueless, pick up some Southern Fried English with Billy Bob Thornton in Slingblade and take in a dollop of surfer-speak from Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times At Ridgemont High… I think you’re catching my drift. I hope all my British friends and relations are taking notes here. There will be a test. And if I have to become a Texas Republican to see this gets enforced, I’m going to do it.