Sunday, June 24, 2007

I can has hyperforeignizations?

Some days you pick up the Times and wonder what was going on in the deskly mind:

Until recently, the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea was not much more than a barren stretch of land, biblically sacred but inhabited mostly by Bedouin goatherd.

Must ... make ... noun ... plural. Oh noes! Secret Meaning already is plural! Must ... remove ... -s! Oops, amputated wrong plural marker. Or maybe Safire's malign influence is metastatizing outward from the Magazine and we're reading "Bedouin" as the noun and "goatherd" as the modifier: the "attorneys general" or "Whoppers Junior" effect.

In the confusion there, somebody missed the joke, which is that "goatherd" already has a plural. It is "goatherds." As in "Chapter 11: Of what befell Don Quixote with certain goatherds." So does "bedouin" ("bedouins"), wherein things get slightly more entertaining.

True, "badawin" is a plural form of "badawi," a desert-dweller (although the Wehr and Cowan dictionary gives a nice clear hint about the status of the English noun when it defines "badawi" as "a Bedouin"). Here's what the OED says about how we got it:

First known to Europeans in Crusading times. The plural, being of most frequent use, was adapted in med.L. as bedu ni, bedewni, It. beduini, baduini, whence a sing. L. bedunus, It. beduino, F. beduin, etc.

And forms of "Bedouins" have been showing up in English for six centuries now: Bedoynes, Bedwins and Bedonians (hail, hail Bedonia!) among them. So even if the Safire effect was in play, it should have produced "Bedouins goatherd," since even at the Times you probably couldn't get away with "Bedouins goatherds." Although it'd be fun to try.

Anyway, one can only hope the high-level debates over how to pluralize what in the lede didn't leave the editors' guard down when this one came along:

Although Westerners may harbor suspicions — or perhaps guilt — about lounging seaside in an Arab country wedged between the West Bank and Iraq, the spagoers are attracted by Jordan’s reputation as a moderate and safe country, whose people are imbued with a Bedouin sense of hospitality.

It might have been nice of the desk to remind the writer that not all "Westerners" are Americans (though maybe he meant "badawins who live on the West Bank of the Hudson," rather than "people from countries where the prestige press doesn't fan irrational paranoia"). But the "guilt" part -- I'm trying to convince myself that's merely stupid, rather than blitheringly ethnocentric to the point of being racist, and not having a lot of success. You?


Anonymous ray said...

The "guilt" is much less bothersome to me than is the "harbor suspicions" phrase. That looks much more like the writer was meaning Americans. Rich people everywhere tend to have a twinge of guilt when lazing about in poverty-riddled areas, but they spend their money and salve their consciences. I imagine that tourism runs up and down with the unpeaceful flareups, but Europeans have a fair tourist population in the Mideast.

8:34 PM, June 24, 2007  

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