I recently cited 10 (or 11) Spanish words that English might usefully add to its lexicon. As we ponder this, Spanish proceeds apace to add English words to its own vocabulary. 'Packaging' - would you believe - is one I saw yesterday. In a letter to El País last week, a reader listed the following as being both current and unnecessary. I felt for her:
The Gibraltar government has accused the the Spanish Foreign Minister - Motormouth Margallo - of not using diplomatic language. This is rather like complaining that fire is hot. It's the nature of the beast. Gibraltar is also unhappy with the mayor of the adjacent Spanish town again referring to drug smuggling via The Rock. Which - given Spain's massive imports of cocaine - does seem a tad fork-tongued. Or at least ironic.
I'm a great admirer of Caitlin Moran, even if she does write for the evil Murdoch's Times. And this was before I found out yesterday that, like me, she has more Celtic blood/genes than anyone here in Galicia plus a Liverpool connection. My grandparents came from Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England. Hers - via that city, of course - from Ireland. Anyway, at the end of this post is a fine article she's written on migration into the UK. And on Celts.
The ex-drummer of a pop group has been shot dead here in Pontevedra province by the Guardia Civil. Not unusually, their account of how it came about is very different from that of his relatives and neighbours. But the truth will surely win out.
This may well be another challenge for Facebook . . . There's a UK newspaper editor whose staff refer to him as "a cunt in cunt's clothing." About which he's probably very proud. Being a cunt. Note for Spanish readers: This insult means absolutely nothing in Spain, where it's a term of endearment used even for kids. But in the Anglo world (especially the USA) it's even worse than cabrón. This, of course, is 'billy-goat' in English and, in a nice symmetry, is totally anodyne in our world.
Finally . . . There was a Second Coming in Tiffintown early yesterday, as these fotos show. I've informed my Catholic sister. My Jewish sister isn't interested:-
Why I’m migrant-friendly
As a Celt – and I don’t want to make you Anglo-Saxons feel bad – we were here first.
In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams sketches, with loving detail, one of the minor characters – Mr Prosser, a council worker charged with knocking down Arthur Dent’s house.
Although Mr Prosser is a classic jobsworth – “fat, forty and shabby” – the unusual thing about him is his ancestry. He is a direct male-line descendant of Genghis Khan, King of the Mongols.
As a consequence, when stressed, Mr Prosser is apt to have visions of houses being consumed by fire and his enemies “running screaming from the blazing ruins, with at least three hefty spears in [their] back”. Mr Prosser, Adams says, “was often bothered by visions like these, and they made him feel very nervous”.
I’ve been thinking about Mr Prosser a lot recently, as the migrant crisis rolls on, and we see the language that’s being used around it. Over the years, one of the most useful rules of thumb I’ve found is that when people talk about other people, they are apt to reveal an enormous amount about themselves.
This is particularly pertinent when talking about people we dislike or fear – when we discuss their presumed motives. When the language gets heated, we talk a little quicker, and the words tend to come not from our minds – measured things, latterly learnt; the correct things; the formal things – but from our bones, instead. From centuries down.
And, so, to migrants. The language used around the crises at Calais and in the Mediterranean has been telling: “Swarms”. “Floods”. “Invasions”. “Economic migrants”. “Endangering our national identity”.
The people using these terms are, fairly consistently, white British – that is to say, of Anglo-Saxon or Norman descent. Perhaps it’s because I am of Celtic descent, but the terms they use to describe migrants isn’t language I would ever use. Partly because my grandparents were migrants – from County Mayo to Liverpool, at the turn of the century – so, you know. I’m migrant-friendly, along with – as a general rule of thumb – my other migrant-descended friends, ie, Jews, Greeks, Sikhs and, in one case, a proud, possibly-too-embedded-in-ancestry.com Huguenot.
But it’s also because, as a Celt – and I don’t want to make you Anglo-Saxons and Normans feel bad – we were here first. Celts were the ones who lived in England before the swarms of Anglo-Saxons and Normans came over – some invading, some as economic migrants – and disrupted our way of life, flooding our towns and endangering our national identity, to the point where we only lived on in areas so wet and remote (Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall) the Anglo-Saxons and Normans couldn’t be bothered to deal with the travel, and mildew, and left us alone to be pale and ginger.
Yes, this all happened centuries ago. But I do wonder if, like Mr Prosser, these things are embedded somewhere, deep in the psyches of Anglo-Saxon and Norman Britons.
When I drive through villages in Suffolk and Surrey – householders tending roses, before strolling to the pub – I wonder if, underneath all this, there is a buried tribal memory of their ancestors coming to claim Surrey and Suffolk. The battles and invasions, the conquering and the taking of a whole country.
It would be weird if there weren’t. We are, after all, taught our history. We all have a sense, somewhere inside us, of how we got to where we are today. And here it comes out in our language, when we see others, across the sea, staring at our country – although these people, ironically, do not wish to invade, or subsume, us. They want to be part of our culture. They want to open a corner shop, or be heart surgeons. They are coming here not to kill us, but so they themselves don’t die.
And yet, in our language, we ascribe to them the behaviours of our forefathers. Well, yours. Mine were busy heading west, in order to get rained on, then be oppressed.
“Swarms”. That was the biggest one for me. Our prime minister, David Cameron, referring to the migrants as “swarms”. Of course, it’s just one word, and he might have regretted it. But to see someone from a background of immense privilege talking about these traumatised families as “swarming” seemed both a brutal and inadvertently revealing word.
For I could talk about white public schoolboys “swarming” – cherry-picking jobs in the media, the City, Parliament and business, at the expense of women and the working classes. The figures are there: 48 per cent of Tory MPs privately educated, against 7 per cent of the population; Britain 56th in the world rankings for its proportion of female MPs. Etc. Etc.
But I would not use the word “swarm”, because then I would be revealing something – that I am a chippy, Celtic, working-class woman – about myself.
That’s the thing about talking about other people. You end up talking, really, about your darkest self. You are the migrant. You are the swarm.