Our German translator JLH has a few things to say about the latest “News of the Weird” story from South Africa.
One of the many things you can learn by reading the news at Gates of Vienna
Let’s see if I understand this. Burger King is removing the syllable “ham” from “hamburger” in South Africa so as not to offend anyone. The best statistic I can uncover is that Islam accounts for 1.5% of the ca. 56 million South Africans. The largest single religious group is Protestant Christianity. In second place are those who profess no religion. It makes you wonder whom Burger King consulted (or was directed by). Certainly not the local Jewish lobby. When is the last time you ever heard the owner of a Jewish deli complain to the ADL about the BBQ bar and grill next door advertising spareribs?
This is a pioneering alteration to the language. The word for a type of sausage originally named after its city of origin is reduced to a severed trunk (-burg) that means “fort.” In US English, at any rate, calling somewhere a “burg” is not particularly flattering. I know because I come from a state with a lot of burgs. If I were a citizen of one of the largest cities in Germany — an international port, a center of trade, and an original member of the Hanseatic League — I would not like to be told that I was living in -burg.
This presents a whole new vista of linguistic change, calling up fond memories of the Hitlerian desire to expunge foreign words and phrases from the German language.
Where else in English, for instance, can we find this insidious infidel word “ham”? Perhaps in the Broadway musical about one of the Founding Fathers — you know, Alexander -ilton. Or in the name of a cute little rodent — the -ster — that is so fond of treadmills. Or, if you don’t want to call a small town a burg, you could call it a -let. And if you damage that place down in the back of your leg, you could say that you hurt your -string. This could lead to some confusion, so it may be better to take the high road and say that you pulled one of the tendons that laterally and medially border the depression in the popliteal fossa. That’s a little clumsy, but there are no infidel words in it. (Unless some really picky Muslim scholar objects to the use of the language of the Roman Church.)
And what if we can’t just remove the offensive syllable? What if that’s all there is? Like “Don’t ham it up.” We just have to substitute, and tell show-offs “Don’t steak it up!” “Don’t be such a steak!”
Just to be safe, we should also do away with the term we use for that crispy stuff we often eat in the morning. The morning special might be called “two eggs any style, with choice of ground infidel meat or infidel crispy stuff.” Alternatively “Canadian infidel crispy stuff and eggs.”