Let’s pretend it’s dinner time, and you’ve just developed a sudden craving for Mexican food. Yesterday, it was Chinese. Tomorrow it may be Italian. But today, it’s Mexican.
And, while we’re pretending, let’s pretend that a four-star Mexican restaurant just opened around the corner.
You walk in, and the red-haired hostess politely greets you in impeccable British Standard English, seats you and hands you a menu. At the top is a grilled American cheese sandwich. You can order it plain or with tomato (75 cents extra). Below are other specialties of the restaurant - pot roast, chicken pot pie and fried liver with onions.
Thinking you have got the wrong menu, or at least went to the wrong restaurant, you ask the blond-haired waiter to give you the Mexican menu.
“This is it,” he says.
“I was hoping for an appetiser of nachos with salsa and guacamole, and a main course of fajitas,” you say.
He tells you the restaurant - Matthew’s - doesn’t have fajitas. Nor does it have tacos, enchiladas, or quesadillas. You can, however, order a mug of Two X beer, which was once named Dos Equis.
“We used to have chilli con carne, which we renamed chilli with meat,” says the waiter, “but the Language Police ordered us to take it off the menu because we couldn’t translate ‘chilli’ into an American term”.
Absurd? Of course it is. But, the truth is even more absurd. During World War I, with Americans despising anything German and the establishment newspapers fuelling flames of patriotic intolerance, “sauerkraut” became “victory cabbage”, hamburgers became “liberty sandwiches” and hamburger steak became forever etched into Americans’ vocabularies as “Salisbury steak”.
In March 2003, when France didn’t agree with the United States about why the world should invade Iraq, Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio), chairman of the Committee on House Administration, ordered all restaurants in the buildings of the House of Representatives to rename french toast “freedom toast” and french fries “freedom fries.” The White House also thought that was a reasonable thing to do while planning a “shock-awe-and-quagmire” invasion.
Hundreds of restaurant owners throughout the country followed the congressional will. In response to reporters salivating to report upon an international food fight, Nathalie Loisau, a spokeswoman for the French Embassy in Washington, D.C., said, “We are at a very serious moment dealing with very serious issues and we are not focussing on the name you give to potatoes,” (Apparently, Americans didn’t have any problems with french horns or french poodles.)
As absurd, as the linguistic larceny that renamed food, are the babblings of most of the nation’s radio talk-show hosts and their ranting gaggle of jingoistic followers who demand the United States be solely an English-speaking country.
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