Saturday, February 23, 2008

W must go!!!

OK, I realize this may be one of my much more controversial blog posts. And I have carefully considered the possible damage to my career, grant funding, colleagues, friends, family, and some of you. This may be seen as un-American. This is why I keep this a nonpolitical blog. But I have to speak up. It is so frustrating being an American here in Europe, continually apologizing for W. It really is a deserved and abiding national disgrace. And change is not impossible, I describe how. And I will not be a hypocrite on this point, and will do my best to lead a sincere effort to make things better.

But first, we have to agree on 3 things:

1) That W is the worst of all of them. If you disagree, that's OK, keep reading, I will get to that soon. But I am very confident I have a novel argument for getting rid of W for good, and you will be flummoxed.

2) And let me next propose that some Europeans have a better system, and we should adopt theirs. Yeah, I know, fucking expat, why don't you just stay over there? And I told you, I am done with W for good, and you will be too. But at least hear me out.

3) It really does matter. In an era when much of the world is moving forward and embracing new technologies and the internets, we are critically limited by the ongoing, maddening, daily inanity of W.

point 1) W is THE WORST of all. It is. All other letters require only one syllable, and W requires three. Most other letters can be easily pronounced with only three letters: bee, kay, yoo, zee. W is one of the widest of all letters, which played havoc with writing neat papers in the old days. Why? Change is in the American spirit. Why don't we change?

point 2) Here are two superior European methods. In Germany, that letter is pronounced "vee." In England, it is "dub." One syllable, not three. In America, the best we can come up with seems to be the intermediate "dubya." Two syllables. Now, again, this is a strictly nonpolitical blog, but speaking only linguistically, dubya ranks between the absolute stupidest of them all, and simply dub.

My low-effort research around the lab has concluded that other European languages have either one or three syllabes for W, but never 2. French, Spanish, and Romanian have 3 syllables. Cyrillic has no W, but has a similar looking symbol pronounced 'sh.' So we could kinda be a trendsetter here. The Euros would be so pissed. The French Language Institute would commit suicide. And it would sound beautiful.

point 3) It matters more and more in an era when the triple use of W is waxing as it is. It could well swing the war on terror. Imagine the following scenarios:

English captain: Bloody hell! A bomber!
English leader: Attack it!
English captain: Dash! The bloody computer doesn't work!
English leader: Quick, go to dub dub dub!!

Try changing the last line to:
German Fueher: Schnell, gehen Sie zu vee vee vee
American leader: Quick, go to doubleyew doubleyew doubleyew (boom)

So, to compete with the rest of the world, increase commercial efficacy, and provide for the common defense, I propose we the people adopt the British pronunciation of dub instead. Now I don't mean we get rid of W graphically, just phoenetically. Obviously, I do not propose:

Dubho's Afraid of Virginia Duboolf?
Dubhy, God, Dubhy!?!!!!?!!
Dube fedub, Dube happy fedub, dubhe band of brothers.

So that is my way of explaining why I may henceforth use "dub," and consider you rather backward and simple if you still like dubya after all this.

Dont be embarrased at your flummoxitaciousness. It's OK to be wrong about W. Join the smart crowd. It is the easiest revolution in history. You do not have to grab a sword, chant in the rain, send in money, or even get off your ass. You just have to say less.

Saturday, February 16, 2008


It is a cold but sunny Saturday morning in Bremen. I now depart for Kohlfahrt, an intriguing German tradition. Work colleagues pay 30 Euros each. This is used to buy a wagon full of flavored Schnapps and other gut twisting nasty concoctions. It also provides for a feast at the end. We all meet - fairly soon, actually - at a streetcar stop wearing a cup and a string tying it around the neck. I have just made the latter from a dangling piece of laundry hanging wire. The boss may show up, but only at the beginning. You are supposed to get really drunk. By German standards, this means dead, and so I will not struggle to keep up.

Last weekend I went to Groningen with my cousin John. This was a pleasant town. We rode bikes around a big lake on a sunny day. This was my first time riding a bicycle in heavy traffic. Them Dutch get all into it, with bicycle turn and passing lanes, hand signals, glaring, and of course bells. No horns, all bells. Gotta clear them confused Americans somehow.

On the way back, two passport police checked our passports. They were polite and proceeded throughout the train without incident. Excluding one guy, who happened to be sitting really near us. He claimed to be a Nigerian citizen with a Nigerian passport living in Spain. He said he was going from Amsterdam to Germany to visit a friend. The passport cop was clearly suspicious. On questioning, he gave inconsistent answers about the duration and goals of his travels. The passport cop explained that the picture on the passport did not look like him, and said they would head down to the station for an identity check, and if there was no problem, he would be released. The guy tried to stand up, and was blocked. Then the funny part. He asked, quite politely and reasonably, if he could just go back to Amsterdam. He then continued to argue for this, as if it were a perfectly reasonable option. Why not? Just get off at the next station, turn around, no problem. I'll even take back the mushrooms I was smuggling. The passport cop was quite polite, spoke good english, kept his large frame right in the aisle to prevent movement, and kept saying no. The second passport cop, who had gone off to do some other stuff, noteworthily came back to help his buddy right when the train was about to pull in. More cops were at the station, obviously waiting. They went off without incident, except the guy continued to plead for a return and forget option.