Friday, June 29, 2007

Weep Not For Engrish

June must be The Month When I Yell Angrily At Other Foreigners In Tokyo, because this week I'm at it again. This time the object of my all-destroying disdain is Beau Miller's essay (entitled Farewell, My Government Abuse Chicken) which was printed in the Last Word section of issue #692 of Metropolis. In it, Mr. Miller laments recent efforts to rid Beijing of "Engrish" (bastardized English born of computerized translation).

"Engrish" is one of my least favorite words in the world. It's like a thick, juicy slab of "I find your country quaint and humorous" wrapped in a "Your inability to understand English is an endless font of delight" tortilla.

With his mouth full of the burrito I just described, Beau Miller complains that, without all this "Engrish" (and "Chinglish," just in case you weren't already offended), cities like Beijing and Tokyo will become tiresome, boring and generally less of a barrel of laughs for him. If he knew that an endless supply of "Engrish" was always available at Yahoo's babel fish page, he might not be in such a panic.

While Mr. Miller frames his essay by stressing that Beijing has "more important matters to address," his decision to illustrate that point with a stack of "ha ha ha, these people can't even speak English good" observations is counter-productive to his cause. I do, however, approve of his decision not to identify himself as a freelance writer. Most Last Word authors do. After all, "freelance writer" sounds a lot cooler than "ESL instructor."

Below is the letter I wrote to Metropolis in response. I kept it short, and so perhaps oversimplified my argument (and may subsequently be accused of missing the point of Miller's essay), but I wrote it more for my own benefit than anyone else's.

The disappearance of allegedly comical English from cities like Beijing and Tokyo is no crisis. Rather, if this change means people will stop using condescending words like "Engrish" and "Chinglish," I hope it happens sooner than later. The "Engrish" in question is usually the product of babel fish translation services (available for free all over the Internet), so if Beau Miller's top priority is indeed his own entertainment at the expense of language, why not just go to the source?

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