Islamic Shibboleths

Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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146 Responses

  1. Doctor Jay says:

    Apparently how one pronounces the word “Muslim” is a new tribal marker.Report

  2. greginak says:

    Different pronunciations???? WTF I have no clue what this about nor why i should care about this trolly bit of partisan crap. And “pet project”??? Please. This is more silliness. If you would tell us more about how Islam is the left’s pet project or how we are trying to change i could tell you in more detail how crazy the idea is. This is just a generic attack piece about how liberals are all sorts of bad. Did it ever occur to the writer that people pronounce words differently due to different accents? ( i went through the piece but my eyes were rolling quite a bit so maybe i missed it.)

    Islam is a religion, it can’t learn or enlighten itself. It isn’t conscious or self aware. People can do those things religions can’t.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to greginak says:

      The idea that pronunciation might be… well, a shibboleth… is hardly new.

      It’s been around for quite some time on both sides of the aisle. I note Republicans still favoring the objectively incorrect forms newk-you-lar (which I believe began with Eisenhower) and “Democrat Party” (which started who even knows where). So both sides in fact do it. They only differ on the methods by which they choose to distinguish themselves.

      As to Islam being a project for the left, I stand by it. It’s imagined that the road to Muslim integration will be managed, and managed well, by them. I’d actually like this to be true, but I don’t imagine that it will be either a smooth transition, or that the left will have a whole lot to do with it when the story is finally told.Report

      • greginak in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Oh lordy…the BSDI raises its head. Silliness. People have accents, sometimes their useage is objectively wrong and sometimes its just style. I’m not sure how you can massage that into an issue.

        I really have no idea how you are getting this Islam or ( the moozlims i guess) are some pet project of the left. What are we supposed to be doing and to who? Which indoctrination camps have i missed, we have so many?Report

        • Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

          What are we supposed to be doing and to who? Which indoctrination camps have i missed, we have so many?

          From what I understand, there are cultural differences when it comes to expectations for and of women.

          I’m not saying that we’re any better, of course. Both Sides Do It.Report

          • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jaybird says:

            If you think your party is great because it doesn’t signal with the little things, you’re wrong.

            If you think the other party is awful because it signals with the little things, you’re also wrong.

            And both sides also do both of these things, too.

            (And so does my side, for what it’s worth.)Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

              I communicate the nuance of my positions.

              You’re virtue signalling.

              They dogwhistle.Report

              • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jaybird says:

                Comments like this one are why we need the “like” function.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Well, except for one thing: if all sides do it (including those who are “above the fray”) and we’re all members of one side or another, how does anyone distinguish nuance from virtue-signalling given that it’s a subjectively oriented judgment? The game is up, at that point, yeah? And at that point we need a reset for non-self-serving communication to even make any sense.

                (So why not just dispense with the signalling-based meta-analysis we began with?)Report

            • I don’t find “newk-you-lar” to be objectively incorrect. It seems to follow a pattern in English of *wanting* to add extra syllables in some places.

              But then it’s probably also true that that pronunciation has become a signal/marker of some sort.Report

          • Will H. in reply to Jaybird says:

            there are cultural differences when it comes to expectations for and of women.

            I, for one, am quite happy with the popularity of the brassiere, though they do, at times, impede my intent in meaningful ways.
            Bikinis are something of a mixed bag (no pun intended) if you’ve ever been to a real beach. (Had to be real careful typing that last word . . . )Report

        • Will H. in reply to greginak says:

          Many nigras ask this same question.Report

      • North in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        For Islam being a “project of the left” I think that’s likely though a lot more definition of what it means to be a “project of the left” is required.

        If it means anything towards encouraging Islam to modernize that could run the gamut from intensly lobbying Islamists to seriously consider tolerance and pluralism to simply saying the same while standing on the sidelines as the Islamic extremists kill each other off. I’m more inclined to like this line of liberal thought than the much smaller line of thought that suggests that modern values should be compromised out of sensitivity to Islamic feelins.

        This is all, of course, liberal, intra-liberal and libertarian discussions since conservatives (as they have on so many things) are basically out of the conversation rolling around in a fit and occasionally contributing empty pieces like Oprea does.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to North says:

          This is all, of course, liberal, intra-liberal and libertarian discussions since conservatives (as they have on so many things) are basically out of the conversation rolling around in a fit and occasionally contributing empty pieces like Oprea does.

          When it comes to Europe at least, I’m pretty sure that the conservatives are beginning to clear their throats in preparation for their coming participation in the conversation.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        As to Islam being a project for the left, I stand by it. It’s imagined that the road to Muslim integration will be managed, and managed well, by them.

        This is one of those claims that needs both semantic clarification (to understand who you’re referring to) as well as some citations to support whatever claim you in fact are making here.

        If we’re talking about integrating Muslims into the wider geopolitical world which it is currently viewed as being at odds with, from where I sit no one has any views on how that should go. One thing members of “the left” probably pretty consistently believe, tho, is that bombing the radicals into submission is neither a morally nor a pragmatically (cuz incoherent!) desirable approach to take. So perhaps in that very limited sense the left views itself as a better guardian of “integration” than the right. But only in that sense, seems to me.Report

  3. Jaybird says:

    I remember when we called “Beijing” “Peking”.

    I have encountered old people who called it “Peiping”.

    I’m still somewhat confused by the difference between “Burma” and “Myanmar” (from what I understand, the closest pronunciation of the name of the country is somewhere between those two words).

    I have been told that it is disrespectful to use the one rather than the other, though.

    Back when I watched Sabado Gigante, I regularly heard “Nueva York” rather than “New York”. It never occurred to me that there might be grounds for someone (not me, of course, but someone) to be offended by such a thing.Report

    • greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

      That seems to be more about calling people or a country by the name they choose then the one put on them by foreigners.

      Like Boba Fett, i could call him Bob but his name is Boba so i should respect his name not call him what fits my custom.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to greginak says:


        As much as I can appreciate disliking “foreigners”, I’m unclear as to what “our” responsibilities to “them” might be with regards to language and custom and what “their” responsibilities to “us” might be with regards to language and custom.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

          How about we aim to be as respectful as possible to others and hope for the same in turn?Report

        • greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

          If a foreign country ruled over another and put their own foreign name on a country as opposed to what the locals call themselves then i can understand why the locals don’t like it. When the locals get to name their own place with their own names it is simple respect to call them by what they choose. Is this that hard?Report

          • Maribou in reply to greginak says:

            Burma or Myanmar is kind of complicated though.

            And for that matter the changes in romanization (which is all the Peking/Beijing/Peiping) thing amounts to is:
            1) on the one hand just an improvement in how anglophones hear spoken Mandarin
            2) a reflection of the differences in place names in different Chinese dialects
            3) a deliberate choice by the Communist Party in China that went along with their implementation of some pretty damn cruel policies. (But on the other hand, came shortly after they wore themselves out taking care of people struck by famine and war trauma… while simultaneously fighting in a war…)
            Taiwan still uses the old romanizations.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

            So something like “You’re in America now. We prounounce it *THIS* way” is okay and if the foreigner persists in pronouncing it in some foreigner way, we, as Americans, have the grounds to feel disrespected?Report

    • Glyph in reply to Jaybird says:

      “Nueva York” was the LEAST of Sabado Gigante’s offensiveness issues.Report

    • Murali in reply to Jaybird says:


      well you guys also used to call black people n—-rs. Some people still say black but mean n——-r. Pronouncing Muslim as “Moslem” is similar in many ways. It smacks of the whole we-conquered-you-(and thus practically owned you) and-therefore-get-to-call-you-whatever-the-hell-we-damn-want mentality.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Murali says:

        It’s exactly like saying “Democrat Party” instead of “Democratic Party” (as well as why people more concerned with politeness than accuracy say “Republican Party” or “GOP” instead of “Batshit Party”.)Report

      • Glyph in reply to Murali says:

        Bad example, I think, since “Moslem” is the older (now disfavored by almost everybody) pronunciation and predates most American involvement in the ME, conquering or no. I’m not clear on how closely the words are related, but I will note that we still call mosques, mosques, with the old “mah” sound.

        The article is really about “muh” vs. “moo”, I think.Report

        • Guy in reply to Glyph says:

          Is that a real thing? I interpreted Jason’s point, at least, to be about “is-LAHM” vs “IZ-lam”, in which case it at least kind of stands, assuming there are people yelling about that (and there almost certainly are). I couldn’t connect it to a pronunciation of “Muslim” that I’ve ever heard anyone use. I think once I might have heard someone say “Moslem” and thought they were kind of weird?Report

          • Guy in reply to Guy says:

            Well, I feel silly now, at least re: looking at the article under discussion.

            (On the other hand: “Ever notice how those on the Left pronounce ‘Muslim’ like ‘Mooss-lim’?” Nope. Guess this piece ain’t aimed at me.)Report

          • Glyph in reply to Guy says:

            I’m old enough that I can remember when “Moslem” was the more commonly-encountered spelling/pronunciation. Granted, I’m from the South, but I was a fairly well-read kid and in my experience, it wasn’t until sometime around 9/11 that even written usages really switched to “Muslim” more or less consistently (since the word was now in the news a lot more than it used to be).

            But even then, I didn’t take the change as any political point as much as (I assumed) a potentially more-accurate English equivalent spelling/pronunciation. Sort of like the “Osama/Usama” (Uma/Oprah) questions, etc.Report

            • Guy in reply to Glyph says:

              “Uma” and “Oprah” are supposed to be the same name? The past was weird…

              Anyway, thanks. All my exposure to the word is post-9/11, so that doesn’t really contradict any of my experiences.

              (This blog is the only place I go where I am consistently Obviously Young. It’s a strange experience.)Report

            • Glyph in reply to Glyph says:

              Riffing on this some more (and I haven’t checked Google Ngram against my recollections), it seems to me that when I was a kid, ME-related issues (which were of course in the news) seemed to be often discussed in terms of political/economic entities (OPEC, Palestine, et al) and ethnicities (Arabic, and for people who wanted to be derisive, that might be “Ay-rab”), but religion was usually not really the focal point of the discussion.

              Pre-9/11, that is.Report

            • Chris in reply to Glyph says:

              It looks like “Muslim” surpassed “Moslem” sometime in the late 1940s. With the spike you see in the teens and early 20s, the timing of the two changes around two wars that involved a heavy English-speaking presence in the Arabic speaking world (along with the Arab-Israeli conflict becoming a major issue for the English-speaking world), suggests that you’re right, the change in preferred spelling was motivated by increased accuracy.Report

              • Glyph in reply to Chris says:

                Well, I’m not THAT old. Maybe I was just reading old books, or the older spelling/pronunciation hung around longer where I was, because I really do remember thinking, huh, it’s “Muslim” now.Report

              • Kolohe in reply to Chris says:

                Though there was a general post world war 2 trend to ‘reform’ the romanization of just about every non-roman script, wasn’t there?. At least, when one was being taught East Asian foreign languages in the 80s and 90s, there were specific mentions of ‘you may see this, but it’s the old style, this here is the style we’re going to use now’. (though Japanese romanization shifted a heck of lot less than Mandarin Chinese did)Report

              • Chris in reply to Kolohe says:

                That very well could be. I have no real knowledge of such trends beyond this few seconds of internet sleuthing over coffee.Report

              • Chris in reply to Chris says:

                This shows the dates a bit clearer, without the WW1 spike.Report

              • Guy in reply to Kolohe says:

                Except in cyberpunk!Report

        • Murali in reply to Glyph says:

          But it doesn’t pre-date Western involvement* in the middle east especially the more antagonistic kind. Perhaps its just me, but the first time I encountered the word spelled “Moslem” was as kid in a story about El Cid. It doesn’t help that the people who I tend to see bemoaning the change also tend to be the people who are more inclined to view a 10th (or 11th depending on how you count) crusade as a good thing or who see geopolitics as largely the game of defending and expanding christendom (with a bit of judeo tacked in front so as to distance oneself from the Nazis).

          *Or more accurately, the involvement of christendomReport

          • Glyph in reply to Murali says:

            Could just be where and when and how I grew up (as I said, it was the South – and my encyclopedia set was a very old one I’d inherited from a grandmother – since in the pre-Internet age, how fast could information and usages really change, anyway?), but as I said, no one batted an eye at “Moslem” and I did not get any impression the intent was to denigrate – the “Mo” simply tracked with the ones in “Mohammed” and “mosque”.Report

  4. Kazzy says:

    Comparing the pronunciation of Islam and Muslim to Paris is a false analogy. We also don’t call Rome Roma or Germany Deustchland*. But we should pronounce words as best we can within our own language. This isn’t a political issue. It is a respect issue. If showing respect toward how others wish to be identified is a “liberal” thing than what is the conservative alternative? Being disrespectful? Hey guys… if that is the hat you want to wear, so be it.

    As for whether liberals only offer this respect selectively… well, the author doesn’t seem to substantiate that claim. Again, the comparison to Paris fails. If Oprea can point to a group of liberals — or, hell, ONE liberal — who pronounces Christian or Catholic improperly we can talk. But I doubt she can. Because that doesn’t happen.

    * I’m actually of the mind that we should call countries, cities, and the like in the manner that the locals do (or at least our best approximation given our phonetics). So I think we should call Mexico “Me-he-co” and that Mexicans should call us “the United States”. But that’s just me being crazy.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Kazzy says:

      “But we should pronounce words as best we can within our own language.”

      Sure. Now, what’s “best” mean?Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        I’ll let individual people decide for themselves if they are doing their best. I can’t roll my R’s so any word that requires such will be one I can’t pronounce perfectly. But I can get reasonably close.

        If someone says, “The emphasis is on the first syllable,” or “It’s a long A not a short A,” and someone pronounces it otherwise, they probably aren’t doing their best.Report

        • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Kazzy says:

          But then… why does Pah-REE seem wrong to you? Apart from the French “r,” which few Americans can master, the rest is easy. You should pronounce it the way the locals do, which does not involve any change at all in spelling, quite unlike “Roma” or “Deutschland.”Report

          • Kazzy in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            “Pah-REE” doesn’t seem ‘wrong’ to me. It was my understanding that “Pah-REE”/”Paris” was equivalent to “New York”/”Nueva York”, “Roma”/”Rome”, etc. If it is more akin to how locals pronounce Baltimore versus how the rest of the country does, than I stand corrected and will adjust my pronunciation accordingly.

            To the broader point, Oprea seems to object to the idea of even trying, because pronunciation is not about respect but about signaling.Report

            • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Kazzy says:

              I had the sense that the choice she perceived was somewhat different: We must seemingly choose between submission to Islam (and Islamic, or “proper” pronunciation), and American values (which call for a consciously different form of pronunciation).

              I resent being asked to make that choice, because my first set of choices would be 1) proper pronunciation 2) American values and 3) a polite but firm rejection of Islam as a false religion.Report

              • greginak in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                So pronouncing a word a certain way is submitting to a religion? By not using the American pronunciation ( The Best Damn Pronunciation the World) we are losing our values?

                Well frak then. When i’ve visited Catholic cathedrals i’ve been respectful to people praying and their rules so therefore , what?, i’m catholic now? Good lord, i’ve visited the Mezquita in Cordoba and been respectful, i must be Mooselimb and Katholick also.Report

              • North in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                So then you don’t agree with her premise? That’s encouraging since I found the article head achingly idiotic. I mean she even implicitly admits, in the final section, that few to no liberals are currently running around screeching about how those words are pronounced so the whole piece is just partisan Mountain-out-of-molehill making.Report

              • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                I don’t agree with her apparent premise that the Democratic pronunciation signals loyalty to Islam. That part seemed deeply off to me.

                Her empirical observation seems correct, though. I suspect party differences here only signal party difference, not Islamic tendencies on the part of the enemy party.Report

              • North in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                And to be clear her empirical observation being that the Democratic candidates are making a point of pronouncing these words in a manner closer to how Islamic faithful and Muslims use them when referring to themselves while Republicans use the more common usage? Yes I’d agree.

                I’d also say it’s says either nothing or something very mildly positive about the Democratic candidates that this is true. Full disclosure, I use the common pronunciation and would probably not bother to try and change that unless I had someone in my social circle who gave a fish about it.Report

              • greginak in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Long ago i had a boss who called Muslims, Mohammedans, which a very old fashioned name and one, i understand, to be offensive to Muslims. She was old so i guess that is what she learned. Some names can be complex but some seem pretty straightforward regarding how to be respectful.Report

              • Glyph in reply to greginak says:

                I wasn’t aware it was offensive, since on the one hand it seems like an analogue to “Christian”, for followers of Mohammed rather than Christ; OTOH, since Mohammed is only His Prophet and “Islam” means “Submission” to Allah the one true God (whereas to most mainstream Christians, Christ=God) I guess I can see that.

                It IS archaic, though; it’s terminology T. Herman Zwiebel (the ancient Mr. Burns-like founder of The Onion) used to use in his missives, which also contained outdated racist terminology like “blackamoors” (and of course the exploits of the murderous robot, the Villainous Mr. Tin).

                I’m not ashamed to say that I find putting outdated, ancient clueless offensiveness in the mouths of really old, evil characters like that a pretty reliably-funny comedic trope.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Glyph says:

                I was taught that “Christian” was originally a derisive term.

                25 Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul: 26 and when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.

                Of course, they reclaimed it and made it their own.

                At first, however, it was considered an insult by both parties involved with the name-calling.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                THen I think we are in much greater agreement than I realized.Report

            • Maribou in reply to Kazzy says:

              Pronunciation is about signaling … respect. Sigh in the direction of Oprea.

              Also, I am dying to know how locals pronounce Baltimore now.Report

              • North in reply to Maribou says:

                And knowledgeability? It doesn’t make me think less of them, seems like a wise enough decision: you signal sympathy to this group of people while the majority of people think little to nothing of it. All benefit, no cost, though Oprea is nakedly trying to generate some.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Maribou says:

                The T is almost silent and the first syllable sounds like ‘bawl’.

                “Bawl-eh-more.” But the eh is pronounced very quickly. It is ALMOST two syllables. Like two and a half. Maybe.Report

              • Chris in reply to Maribou says:

                It’s pronounced, “The City where The Wire and Homicide are set.”Report

          • greginak in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            How many people say “pah -ree?” Compare that to how many people call Target “tar-jay” in a mock french accent? I’m sure people have done both but if someone thinks liberals are running around saying “pah -ree” all the time then lets start discussing the drugs they are doing or should be doing.Report

          • Maribou in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            I think English and French, given the Normans, are so complexly intertwined that they constitute a special case. The process of similarization and differentiation goes back centuries.

            Pah-REE doesn’t seem wrong to me, at all (though I am a spotty roller), but if I say it, North American Anglos don’t tend to know what I mean and I have to back up. So I’ve trained myself to not. (Have also had to do this process with a lot of loan words from one language to the other.) Haven’t noticed this problem with Islam or Muslim, where the difference is a shift rather than including or not including a final consonant.Report

    • Burt Likko in reply to Kazzy says:

      Mexico is also formally called the United States. Specifically, Los Estados Unidos Mexicanos; it is seemingly easy for us Norteños to forget that it too is organized as a Constitutional Federal republic. And from the Mexican perspective, calling our nation El Norteño is thoroughly accurate, as our nation is located geographically to the north of theirs.

      The nation that I’m aware of that suffers the worst Anglicization of their place names is Italy, although that may be in part from my own personal experiences there. “Rome” instead of “Roma” isn’t so bad, although “Roma” isn’t all that hard for a native English-speaker to say. A little worse is dropping the “o” from the end of “Milano.” But it’s “Firenze,” not “Florence.” It’s “Venezia,” not “Venice.” It’s “Genova” not “Genoa.” It’s “Napoli,” not “Naples.” We don’t have a problem with other cities in Italy like Pisa or Bologna (although we can’t pronounce that word, it’s a hard one) or Ravenna or or Assisi or Parma.

      But I don’t really understand how “Livorno” became “Leghorn.” I mean, that’s just plain lazy of us English speakers.Report

      • Kim in reply to Burt Likko says:

        Disagree, and strongly.
        Chinese transliteration was bungled to hell…
        And who ever decided Mumbai was actually to be called Bombay?
        Munchen and Munich at least sound somewhat similar (about the same as Florence and Firenze).Report

      • Mo in reply to Burt Likko says:

        Turin is really an odd case. It’s Torino in Italian (and NBC Olympic broadcasts), but Turin in English and Piedmontese.Report

      • El Muneco in reply to Burt Likko says:

        Heh. It’s even worse than that. A number of Italian futbol clubs are known by the Anglophone name of the city, even in Italian (at least the ones that were founded by Englishmen). E.g. Genoa, but not Torino.Report

      • But I don’t really understand how “Livorno” became “Leghorn.”

        It was, I say, it was my aunt who did that one. You know, my Aunt Florence.

        That’s a joke, son.Report

    • Will H. in reply to Kazzy says:

      Mexicans should call us “the United States”.

      Actually, “Mexico” is the “United States”– Estados Unidos Mexicanos.Report

    • DavidTC in reply to Kazzy says:

      * I’m actually of the mind that we should call countries, cities, and the like in the manner that the locals do (or at least our best approximation given our phonetics). So I think we should call Mexico “Me-he-co” and that Mexicans should call us “the United States”. But that’s just me being crazy.

      Yeah, I always have found what we do a bit baffling. Why *do* we have our own set of words to talk about other places, when they already have their own words?

      I mean, yes, different languages teach different sets of pronounceable sounds, so ‘Beijing’ seems reasonable for English speakers (I honestly couldn’t say how close that is to how it actually is pronounced.), and likewise Chinese and other languages that don’t distinguish between l/r are going to pronounce England and Paris slightly off, but whatever.

      Actually, I *sorta* understand why we say ‘Par-iss’ instead of ‘Par-ree’…we’re pronouncing it as if it is an English word, and, really, that’s understandable too. I’m not sure why it’s hard to learn ‘silent s’, it’s not like English doesn’t have all sorts of stupid inconsistent words so we should be able to remember one for another language, but whatever.

      What I *don’t* understand is why we say Germany instead of Deutschland, which is just stupid. It’s not like it’s particularly hard to say, (Even if we don’t normally end syllables with ‘-sch’, we certainly know how to say ‘sch’.), and, hell, the thing ends in -land so it’s not even a *weird* word for English.

      The really odd thing is this only seems to apply to old countries, not new one, so apparently English speakers can’t pronounce Deutschland despite that being obvious, but are expected to pronounce Djibouti. (Which is, for reference, Ja-bok-ee, and I only know that from Animaniacs.)Report

      • Jaybird in reply to DavidTC says:

        What I *don’t* understand is why we say Germany instead of Deutschland, which is just stupid. It’s not like it’s particularly hard to say, (Even if we don’t normally end syllables with ‘-sch’, we certainly know how to say ‘sch’.), and, hell, the thing ends in -land so it’s not even a *weird* word for English.

        Doesn’t this go back to Rome?

        But why don’t we refer to French people as Gauls?

        Crap, now I have to look this up…

        Edit: It goes all the way back to Tacitus.

        He says: For the rest, they affirm Germania to be a recent word, lately bestowed. For those who first passed the Rhine and expulsed the Gauls, and are now named Tungrians, were then called Germani. And thus by degrees the name of a tribe prevailed, not that of the nation; so that by an appellation at first occasioned by fear and conquest, they afterwards chose to be distinguished, and assuming a name lately invented were universally called Germani.Report

        • Autolukos in reply to Jaybird says:

          Germany, for a variety of historical reasons, has an interesting range of names (map). My favorite there has to be Ubudagi, purely for the theorized derivation from guten tag.Report

        • North in reply to Jaybird says:

          Well we don’t refer to the France as Gaulia because France wasn’t founded by Gauls. The barbarian interlopers who wrested Gaul away from Roman rule weren’t the Gauls (they had long since romanized); it was the Franks. The Franks became the rulers of Frankia which migrated to France gradually.Report

      • Chris in reply to DavidTC says:

        Djibouti. (Which is, for reference, Ja-bok-e


    • Gabriel Conroy in reply to Kazzy says:

      * I’m actually of the mind that we should call countries, cities, and the like in the manner that the locals do (or at least our best approximation given our phonetics). So I think we should call Mexico “Me-he-co” and that Mexicans should call us “the United States”. But that’s just me being crazy.

      I can think of some situations where pronouncing it “Me-he-co” might seem offensive to Mexicans, as if I were mocking them while saying it.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

        And the name Mexico was a medievalish Spanish approximation of one of the Aztec names for the place, at a time when Spanish was in flux by he largest amount it had been since breaking off from Latin. (It was literally becoming unmoored)Report

      • Chris in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

        I have never heard a native speaker use the Spanish pronunciation of Mexico while speaking in English, except maybe as a deliberate exaggeration. I’ve also never heard a Spanish speaker use “Los Estados Unidos” or “Nueva York” while speaking in English (though you might hear either in Spanglish). The English pronunciations are the English pronunciations, the Spanish the Spanish.

        Similarly, if I were speaking Italian, I’d say “Napoli,” but I’ve never heard anyone from Italy call it that in English unless they were talking about the football team.

        People’s names, as I said below, or above, wherever, are different, though. My friend Marisol definitely appreciates it when native English speakers pronounce her name with the Spanish pronunciation (can be hard to get the r right), because it is her name, not an English word. I wonder if some people see the name of their religion as more like a person’s name than the name of a country or city.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to Chris says:

          I guess it is just weird to me that we have “English words” (or Mexican words or whatever language it is) for foreign places. I see place names as names. But I’m obviously in the minority on that.Report

          • Chris in reply to Kazzy says:

            In Europe or Asia or even Latin America, there may be 2 or 3 or even more languages spoken by the people of a small area, and each may have a different name for where they are. Which one do we use, particularly knowing that there are politics involved (think Danzig or Königsberg or pretty much every Native American place name)?Report

          • Gabriel Conroy in reply to Kazzy says:

            I think one reason why “we”* have English words for foreign names is that the English pronunciations seem to fit better with the way sounds work in English. It’s not impossibly difficult for an English speaker to say “Pah-ree,” but it probably fits more easily in the English sound system to say “PAIR-iss.” Similarly, it’s not impossible to say “MEH-hee-koh,” but it’s probably easier for English speakers to say “MEX-ick-oh.”

            I also think if the “English” pronunciation were “MEH-hee-koh,” the pronunciation would within a matter of decades evolve into something like “MAY-koh” because the “h” sound would get weaker and weaker. (And the “h” sound in the standard Spanish pronunciation isn’t really an English “h” but closer to one form of the German “ch.”)

            You seem to acknowledge as much when you say above, “or at least our best approximation given our phonetics.” Part of what I’m saying is that “our phonetics” might play a bigger role in the different place names than it might seem at first glance.

            And to be clear, my “fits easily with English sounds” argument doesn’t explain everything. Other factors can be at play, and I’m not trying to say that just because things are that way it’s how they should be in all cases.

            *I use scare quotes for “we” because I think most languages do this. In French, London is Londres, in Korean, America is Mi-Guk.Report

            • DavidTC in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

              Part of what I’m saying is that “our phonetics” might play a bigger role in the different place names than it might seem at first glance.

              Yeah, but it still doesn’t explain Germany.

              In French, London is Londres, in Korean, America is Mi-Guk.

              ‘Mi-Guk’? Are you saying that is phonically derived from America? I can see dropping the first and last A, and vowels are always random, but I’m a bit baffled as to how R becomes G, especially at the start of a syllable. I mean, I don’t know anything about Korean, but those two sounds aren’t anything close to the same.

              …come to think of it, isn’t Rae a Korean name? How can they have a problem with the R in ‘ri’ in Ame-ri-ca?Report

              • El Muneco in reply to DavidTC says:

                I’d be more worried if it was “Mi-Go”. But at least that would mean that they thought we were fun guys.Report

              • Gabriel Conroy in reply to DavidTC says:

                Yeah, but it still doesn’t explain Germany.

                Well, to be clear, my “fits easily with English sounds” argument doesn’t explain everything. Other factors can be at play.

                As for “Mi-guk,” I don’t speak Korean other than knowing a few words. My understanding is that “guk” means something like “country” or “nation” (“Han-guk”=”Korea,” e.g.). I’m not sure if the “Mi” is “phonetic” or not, or some kind of analogy with the way other East Asian languages call “America” (I understand in Mandarin it’s something like “Mei-guo.”). If there are real speakers here of any of those languages, they can probably just tell me where/how I’m wrong and talking out of my….Report

              • Chris in reply to DavidTC says:

                Here is an explanation of the Korean name for the U.S.

                The reasons we use “Germany” to refer to the country called “Deutschland” by its residents are more complicated and go back a couple millennia (to Julius Caesar even), but can be summed up like this: Germany has been an important region in European affairs for a couple thousand years, but for most of that time it was made up of more or less related, at times unified tribes, states, and statelets, with different names. The various names for Germany used in the various languages throughout Europe (and the rest of the world) come largely from those tribes/states, and predate the fully unified and independent German state by centuries/millennia, already firmly entrenched in those languages before the Prussians defeated Austria and then laid siege to Paris.

                There is no shortage of lengthy explanations of this on the web.

                Also, we already call the people from another country the D(e)ut(s)ch.Report

          • Murali in reply to Kazzy says:

            Singapore is Singapore in English, Singapoor in Tamil, Singapura in Malay, and X?nji?p? in Mandarin.Report

        • Gabriel Conroy in reply to Chris says:

          Good point about personal names, Chris. My experience seems to bear that out, too.Report

        • Mike Schilling in reply to Chris says:

          The only place I hear it in my head is from the beginning of the cartoons, when they introduce Speedy Gonzales as “the fastest mouse in all Me-hee-co”.Report

  5. Maribou says:

    I can’t speak for “the left”, but I started pronouncing the words grumped about more in the direction grumped about, and less in the other direction, once I started working and hanging out with a few folks who are Muslims. Who pronounce them that way. In English. Whether or not they have an accent, and regardless of what accent they have. Otherwise I’d pronounce them some other way.

    Agreed, there is nothing like a good shibboleth to stir up one’s thinking.Report

    • Burt Likko in reply to Maribou says:

      I, for one, would rather call the collection of Syrian and Iraqi thugs making manifest the policy preferences of Immortan Joe “Daesh” than “ISIS” or “ISIL” or the “Islamic State.” That’s after I learned what “Daesh” means in Arabic and the coincidence that “Daesh” is an acronym in Arabic for the formal name of the governmental entity that said thugs propose to establish.Report

  6. Chris says:

    Given how often I’ve heard Americans, likely the same sorts who complain about “the left” wanting us to pronounce “Muslim” “correctly,” complain about or mock the pronunciation of English words by native Spanish speakers, I suspect that to the extent that this involves shibboleths, it involves them in every direction.Report

  7. Kolohe says:

    There’s a similar thing with Hawaiian words (or should I say Hah-vie-glottal stop-anne words), and less often, Spanish words. Personally, I think it’s a terrible affectation, while speaking English, to pronounce certain words* of Hawaiian origin with a overly ‘Hawaiian’ accent, ditto for Spanish ones, but there is one newscaster in the DC area who pronounces her last name (but not her first, nor any of the other words she says, generally) with a Mexican accent

    *it’s kind of random which ‘standard’ pronunciation sticks. Hawaii, most famously, is usually with a ‘dubya’ (and of course, without the glottal stop), but Ewa and Haleiwa are usually ‘eh-va’ and ‘Hah-lay-ee-va’Report

  8. Tod Kelly says:

    It appears I live in a very, very universe than everyone else.

    Everyone I know — Muslims included — pronounces it muhslims. They only person I have ever heard say mooslims is Trevor Noah, and I’m pretty sure that’s more to do with his South African accent.

    Is it possible that this is an East Coast/NE pronunciation that you and the Federalist are confusing with a liberal accent?Report

    • Chris in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      You very well may. I’ve never heard a native Arabic speaker pronunce it “muhslim,” though the difference in the pronunciation is much more subtle than the “Mooslim” pronunciation I’ve herad from some Americans apparently attempting to use the Arabic pronunciation. Really, the biggest difference between the Arabic and American pronunciation that I hear is in the accent, which tends to be on the first syllable in the American pronunciation and on the second in the Arabic.

      So it’s not MUH-slim, or MOOS-lim, but Muss-SLIM (muss=puss, so like “What’s new Mussycat?”). Honestly, if someone has a heavy accent, the difference is almost impossible to notice anyway.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to Chris says:

        TBC, I always hear the accent on the second syllable.Report

      • Brit in reply to Chris says:

        I must admit I spent the thread up to this point wondering what you were talking about. From my perspective, Americans say all sorts of words in a strange way.

        Fwiw, with rare exceptions (usually a conservative trying to make it sound strange and un-British) just about everyone I hear says muss-SLIM with muss as in saying puss in british english quickly.Report

  9. Kolohe says:

    Then there is the case of Iraq, which was Eye-Rack prior to 1991, then Ee-Rock during the Gulf War, and now seems to have migrated back to rhyming with rack. (President Obama’s pronunciation of Paki-STAHN has not been similarly transformational)Report

    • Stillwater in reply to Kolohe says:

      And don’t forget Sah-DAMN! back when that was convenient, too.Report

    • El Muneco in reply to Kolohe says:

      Eye-RACK has always made my eyes roll, even when it was the common pronunciation. I don’t try to ape native inflection, though – it sounds wrong coming from my speech rhythm (but not that of a native, even in English). To me.

      But then I took both Spanish and Japanese in school, so my default vowels are ah, ee, ooh, ey, oh. When I can be bothered to not just elide all vowels down to a schwa.Report

  10. Kim says:

    Can we make this point about Mumbai and the terrorist bombings there? It’s far more relevant to that, methinks, than someone’s odd point about pronouncing a religion’s name.

    Of course. who’s afraid of Indians?
    We don’t stereotype them as thugs afterall.Report

  11. LeeEsq says:

    Islam isn’t so much the pet project of the Left because no liberal or anybody further left is really encouraging or doing much to get Islam modernized. Rather, Muslims are the current victim group to the very anti-Western faction of the Left, the part deeply influenced by Fanon, Said, and other mid-20th century anti-colonialist intellectuals.Report

  12. Maribou says:

    In related and equally hard to stop thinking about non-news, I was fascinated to learn over the past year that
    1) US Military folks tend to say “Cutter”
    2) US broadcasters, etc, almost always say kuh-TAHR.
    3) the expats on Qatari radio invariably seem to say CAT-ahr (2nd syllable quick even though the r is rolled) (regardless of what accent they otherwise hold), if they are speaking in English
    4) and it turns out that people living in Qatar, more generally, say it at least a half dozen different ways (cf. for example, this video from Northwestern’s Doha campus)

    Turns out that people are getting in ALL kinds of stupid fights about it on the internet too. “Cutter” is the most attacked pronunciation, being accused of signalling both ignorant redneckery AND elitist snobbery (by different parties).

    Jeez louise.Report

  13. I wouldn’t go as far as “project”, but it’s true that if the Right is going to go all in on hating and fearing Islam [1], the Left is going to include Muslims within its big tent of the marginalized (people of color, women, gays, and the poor. Not Jews so much, since the Right has recently become our besties. [2]).

    1. The ur-enemy of Christianity and Western civilization, they want to turn us all into dhimmis, the Crusades were self-defense, all Muslims including Keith Ellison and Barak Obama want to impose sharia, you know the drill.

    2, As Martin Luther did for a while too. It never lasts.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      Based on my reading of the Further Left or even the Center Left, it goes further than including the Muslims in the big tent of the marginalized. Many people on the Further Left see the Muslims as the current holders of the Wretched of the Earth status and all problems in the Muslim world as being a result of Western imperialism. They really seem to believe that but for Western interference in Muslim-majority countries, Muslim-majority countries would be Leftist utopias of some sort like the Nordic countries or something even more radical. Its why Judith Butler and company can call Hamas and Hizbollah objectively progressive with a straight face and complete sincerity. These people on the Further Left don’t realize that they are again being used as useful idiots in the same way that the Soviet Union used Western intellectuals.

      As for the Jews being in the big tent of the Left, the best you could say is that the Left always had a tricky relationship with the Jews and no clear idea where they fit in the Leftist cosmology.Report

  14. Heisenberg says:

    So it happens that I live in Kansas, and recently went to services at the local mosque. (I’m not Muslim – I was an invited guest.)

    Funny thing – most folks there in the congregation used the “Americanized” pronunciations that Opera mentions (probably because most of them are U.S.-born citizens) rather than the other pronunciations that show liberals are bad people for submitting to Islam.

    So…. Should I go back and tell my fellow Muslim citizens they’re wrong, or something?Report

  15. Damon says:

    While I think the article has “some” merit, and as was said above, BSDI, I think a lot of it is just regional quirks as well.

    Hell, I’ve been away from the West for 30 years and I still call a tour a “ter”. Of course I’ve been living in the belly of the best of liberal/socialist hivemind think for 30 years too…..Report

  16. trizzlor says:

    Whatever value there is to an article about how liberals drive like *this* and conservatives drive like *THIS* that values goes out the window when the conclusion is and it’s because liberals are submissive cowards and perfectly matches the authors priors. I mean, there *are* rigorous ways to assess latent differences between tribes, why start that conversation with clickbait?Report

  17. clawback says:

    Please tell me more about this project of the left. Seems like I should have been invited to the kickoff meeting, or at least gotten the memo. Who’s keeping the gantt chart?Report

  18. j r says:

    The first question that comes to mind when reading the Federalist piece is, “Is it true?” Is there any empirical proof that how people pronounce certain foreign words is an indicator of their political feelings or cultural sympathies? Maybe, but it is also possible that this article is a great example of the right fully embracing the identity politics that they so often decry.

    Also, I was tempted to completely dismiss the idea of Islam as the left’s pet project, but after a bit of thought it is better to offer an alternative. Anti-racism (I really hate that term, but cannot think of a better one right now) is the left’s pet project. And anti-racism often involves adopting the most sympathetic view of the victims of racism. And anti-racism often involves placing more of an emphasis on fighting the racists than on doing things that would most efficiently benefit the victims of racism.

    Are we in one of those situations right now? I don’t know. In Europe it may be different, but I do not see how the left in America or the non-Islamophobic right holds an unjustifiably rosy view of Islam, radical or otherwise. There may have been a point when many on the left reflexively felt that any group of radicals with AKs and a suitably anti-imperialist mindset were allies in the global fight against capitalism and fascism, but I don’t see anything remotely similar happening right now with respect to radical Islam. Is there are large and visible contingent of U.S. leftists who say sympathetic things about IS or Al Queda or the Taliban or the government of Saudi Arabia or Al Shabab?

    I say all of this a constant critic of the U.S. left on issues of race and sex. I just do not see it when it comes to Islam. What am I missing?Report

    • greginak in reply to j r says:

      This is all true JR. I’ll add that for a few years there were quite few on the feminist left who wanted us to stay involved in Afghanistan due to the terrible way women are treated there. They were plenty critical of harshly paternalistic societies, sadly they thought our continuing military involvement was a good way to deal with that. Simply plenty of libs are critical of aspects of Islamic societies.Report

    • Guy in reply to j r says:

      …IS or Al Queda or the Taliban or the government of Saudi Arabia or Al Shabab…

      I do think there are a lot of people who typically assume Saudi Arabia is just fine and dandy because it is a recognized nation-state, unlike the other groups you list here. You point, of course, still stands. (it just covers a group slightly further to the left than I think you may have meant to with the inclusion of Saudi Arabia, and even then, the reason people think well of Saudi Arabia is not that they believe Saudis to be oppressed.)Report

    • Jaybird in reply to j r says:

      I think that the “pet project” has more to do with the tension that exists between some theories of multiculturalism and some (most) theories of feminism.

      The arguments about how many refugees should be accepted by The West and whether there is a notable percentage of the immigrants from similar cultures to the ones the refugees come from that would benefit from a set of classes similar to the ones we make college freshmen take about sexual harassment.

      (There was recently some unpleasantness in the last month or so in Europe and the interesting part isn’t the unpleasantness (after all, I’m sure that there was unpleasantness in NYC as well and since both sides do it we can’t criticize anybody) but the interesting part was the response of the authorities to the unpleasantness and the response of the media to the unpleasantness.)Report

      • North in reply to Jaybird says:

        I hold out hope that the feminist side should win out. It has the numbers after all and the multiculturalism extremists are a relatively fringe faction.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to North says:

          Which makes the response of the authorities and the response of the media somewhat confusing. What is the end goal? Do they think their responses are going to help get them from where they are to the end goal?

          Are they *TRYING* to get Donald Trump elected?Report

          • North in reply to Jaybird says:

            I expect that the German fiasco will have pretty limited impact on Trump. Europe and America are kindof different.
            In Europe it’s obvious there’s that multiculturalism stream which is understandable because the European pre-multiculturalism thought is problematic in modern terms (especially in Germany) and the costs have been mostly papered over or denied. When/if the two sides actually clash I’d expect the multiculturalism side to back down, not exactly be abandoned but watered down.Report