Many Americans I have known and listened to in my 20 years of living in the U.S. suffer from symptoms of a linguistic ailment I call “Phonetic Laziness Syndrome” or PLS.
Whatever the reason, Americans seem to have very little patience for foreign words, especially the names of people and places. For a nation that is indeed exemplary in courtesy and politeness, PLS is quiet strange and unbecoming.
The PLS syndrome is nowhere more evident than with Americans in the highest positions of leadership, no doubt because they're heard through the public media. The most famous PLS syndrome sufferer is none other than President George W. Bush for whom the problem is compunded with a constantly poor use of English. Examples are all over the news media at least since January of 2000!
The 9/11 disaster once again revealed America's PLS problem by challenging us with a broad set of weird and unpronounceable names. Not too long ago I almost fell from my chair when J.C. Watts, the only Republican African-American member of the House, stood in front of reporters and rambled about dealing with a menace named “O'Saddam Bin Laden?”
I do appreciate the almost nightly supply of good laughs provided by the reporters, politicians and commentators, uttering new versions of “Kandahar”, “Mazar-e Sharif” and “Kuwaita” (Quetta in Pakistan!). But last week I heard the best example of PLS to date!
As George W. Bush's courtship with the sheikdom of Qatar in the Persian Gulf became public and plans to use Qatar as a staging base for U.S. military was unveiled, American reporters and politicians began discussing the intricacies of rain water running off the roof! That's right, they were talking about the “Gutter” — versus Ka-Tar.
I have been watching people discuss “Gutter”, instead of “Qatar” this past week and wondering of all people, why wouldn't the Qatari hosts have someone in their Information Ministry or public relations have a sit down with their American guests and tell them “for God's sake, if you're going to put our Amir and whole kingdom in danger by twisting our arms into hosting your soldiers, then at least pronounce the name of our country properly!”
I was contemplating the “Gutter” phenomenon and sipping a cup of coffee when my boss walked into my office and told me that I was needed on a conference call with a vendor from India. The manager would call us from Bangalore in about 10 minutes. Naturally, I asked my boss what the Indian guy's name was and his response almost made me burn my privates with the contents of my $ 3.00 Starbucks latte. The Indian guy's name is “Sivamalaisamy Gondhalekar”.