Whose English?

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 February, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 February, 2004, 12:00am

I refer to the column 'The serious business of English' (February 10) and the part: 'the damage inflicted on [an Englishman's] language by Americans and Australians'.

Tony Latter, you are a nong. That is one of those Australianisms you Englishmen might find hard to tolerate and forgive. At the same time it might do you some good to find out what it means.

I imagine Americans would have choice adjectives of their own to describe your insufferable UK-centric snobbery about the English language. The sad thing is there are still crusty ol' Brits who are, metaphorically but pathetically, languishing on colonial verandas, dolefully staring at the horizon and clutching their gin and tonics, like ghosts who lost their boo years ago.

Well here is a linguistic ghost-buster for you. The UK is not the centre of the English-speaking world. Take a trip to the expat watering holes of Wan Chai or Lan Kwai Fong and you will soon realise that the English spoken by many 'Englishmen' is about as forgivable or tolerable as bird flu, 'init'? But then, you probably do not hang out (as my American friends would say) with those types, your fellow countrymen who routinely massacre the English language.

Yes, you are just not that important any more. You do not set the standard. On the other hand, the rest of the English-speaking world can be as brilliant with this language, if not more so, as anyone from the UK. Curiously, English-language competency has little to do with the country of origin; breathtaking arrogance, of course, is another matter.

So here is a good exercise for you. Walk into your nearest English-language bookshop and take a close look at the contents of the shelves. You will notice that a lot of what is excellent and English is not from your dark, tweedy and musty end of the woods. It might be from Nigeria, India, or yes, even Australia and America.

You owe a humble apology to those people. I wonder if you could muster some good English for that.