The Hackney Miscarriage, East London’s most insecure column, is even more distressed to hear the criminal distortion of English.
It is likely that more languages are spoken in London than in any other city in the world. More than three hundred, so they say. In Hackney alone you’ll hear Turkish, Kurdish, Yiddish, Bangladeshi and Vietnamese, to name a few. Moreover, the wave of middle class mothers who migrated to Hackney during the decade have introduced their own peculiarly degraded dialect to that once proud maternal tongue, English.
A relatively new language compared to the list above, English made its mark on the world by imposing itself on other countries and inventing cracking new ones, like New Zealand and Singapore. The French tried to do the same, but none of their former colonies matters much today, unless you’re haggling for rugs in Morocco or begging for your life in the Central African Republic.
English has since made a virtue out of refusing to attempt other tongues and forcing non-speakers to capitulate and learn. It’s a win-win for all parties, allegedly. The rest of the world gets a better shot at the good life by equipping themselves with English, and those of us who already speak it need never leave our comfort zone.
Except that earlier this week I was extremely discomfited by an incident that twisted my gut in anger – a merciless act of sedition against the whole premise of the English language. Sitting in a café, minding one’s business, in comes a stay at home mum with her unlovable toddler and spinster friend Barbara, who doesn’t know how to chew or speak quietly – the whole world’s a stage for this lot. Then mum delivers the blow. She asks junior, as he rubs away at the daily special blackboard with his already filthy hands, if he’d like a ‘qwasan’. She tells Barbara she’s going to get a ‘qwasan. She tells the barista she wants a ‘qwasan’. She won’t stop saying it. ‘Qwasan, qwasan,’ she turns to me (why me?), and says it again: ‘qwasan.’ I notice she’s trying not to pronounce the last ‘n’, as though that trip to Saint-Tropez really rubbed off on her.
A what, you ask? Please, try not to splutter your drink all over the screen in your shock and rage. She meant: a croissant.
Every other word spoken by this woman was delivered in unbroken southern English mother dialect. The kind of English where every sentence sounds like an irritated question. Why did she betray her language? Granted we are in a café, but once inside you ask for coffee, and pronounce ‘Pan O’Raisin’ more like a pirates’ dinner then a French pastry.
The French, long resistant to Anglo dominance, defiantly scoff at English attempts to pronounce their language. And so prompted the English tradition of proudly pronouncing it wrong on purpose. Pronouncing French wrong is the very basis of the English language. Even after being soundly trounced in 1066, Britain’s filthy unwashed tribes refused to pronounce anything less than every consonant of William the Conqueror’s unreasonable parlance. England stole the Frankish language and designed it better – the Steve Jobs of the early medieval period, really.
The modern betrayal of English I can only guess is the result of post traumatic stress these women experienced. Being scoffed at by Parisians for saying ‘cross-ant’, and subsequently interpreting their correction as ‘qwasan’. In the lack of meaningful self-identity characteristic of this modern age, these people have forgotten the time honoured English tradition of pointing and raising one’s voice.
French is a delicate language, a language that takes you to bed. English spits in your eye and kicks you in the shin, and doesn’t think of saying sorry. This country didn’t conquer the Antarctic peninsula by assigning genders to nouns. Next time you find yourself in Paris, order chips with your foie gras, demand ketchup for your wine, push a man off the Metro and say it was too full. Whatever happens to you, don’t come back here saying ‘qwasan’.
People in Hackney roll their eyes so far back they can see the damage to their frontal lobe done by hearing ‘qwasan’. If I hear it ever again, I might snap my optic nerve. Leaving me sightless, feeling my way around the borough, hearing nothing but ‘qwasan’ until I finally lose my mind, too.