Sunday, August 14, 2005

It’s Too Damn Hot to Bat a Mere Eyelash

We recently used this space to discuss a column by Jose de Jesus Ortiz, the Houston Chronicle’s baseball writer. Mr. Ortiz had made what seemed to us a reasonable request: that the new broadcaster the Astros hire be able to correctly say the names of the team’s Latino players. We agreed that should be a non-negotiable qualification for the job but went on to note the difficulty we and pretty much everyone else (that is, the sizable portion of the populace that doesn’t have a play-by-play gig in Major League Baseball) has in pronouncing just-so the names of every last resident of this big, churning, ready-mix city of dreams we call home. We took a quick roll-call of our little subdivision---the Chinese folks, the Armenian-Iranian family unit across the street, the Franco-American redneck next door, our Mexican-American friends, etc.---and noted how many of them routinely had their names mispronounced, even by longtime neighbors. We quickly tired of this and didn’t get around to mentioning the nearby Vietnamese-Americans, the Pakistani-Americans, the Indo-Americans, the extended Bantu-speaking African refugee clan, the dour Russian crew from Kazakhstan up the street, the usual sundry run of African-Americans and Euro-Americans … we’ll stop now.

This posting brought an unusually large volume of e-mail to Slampo’s Place--- three, not including one from a friend of ours that we didn’t fully understand. A wise guy who identified himself as “Richard Smith” of Beaumont invited us to move to Vidor (we’ll have to explain this reference to our readers in France another time) if we weren’t down with all this diversity. We are, actually, but our point was that in a town with all 57+ varieties of humanity, the erroneous accenting of a high-paid utility infielder's name by an equally well-remunerated baseball announcer doesn’t have to be elevated to a La Raza-level offense. Multiculturalism can be hard work (we think that was our point).

We also went far out of our way to note that in the old days many immigrants with hard-to-say names simply shortened them or exchanged them for what were then considered more American-sounding ones. Among those huddled masses we counted our own grandfather, who performed voluntary surgery on the Slampeaux name (variations of which date back tens of thousands of years and can be found scrawled on the walls of caves in southern France) after he grew weary of hearing it intentionally mispronounced slam-POO by the fun-loving East Texans he had landed among. We are comforted to know this sort of thing still goes on, as we learned from this “Name Change Notice” we recently spotted in the local India Herald:
"I, Barkat Nurali Ali, herby declare the change of my name from Barkatali Nurali Miyajibhai Maknojiya to Barkat Nurali Ali.”
We thank you, Barkat (very cool name), on behalf of the doctor who writes your prescriptions and the druggist who fills them, the cop who last gave you a traffic ticket, the registrar at the college and, last but certainly not least, the contract worker in Bangalore who helped you when your Internet service was on the blip but first needed you to spell your mother’s maiden name.

Why Did We Find This So Funny? The “Corrections” box in Saturday’s New York Times included this item, in reference to the paper’s obituary on Dallas star Barbara Bel Geddes: “A picture caption referred incorrectly to the character she played. It was Miss Ellie, not Ms. Ellie.”

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