Saturday, 18 May 2019

On national pride and prejudice. The importance of names and symbols.

Here’s a little story about numbers:

 “More than half of Americans believe “Arabic numerals” – the standard symbols used across much of the world to denote numbers – should not be taught in school, according to a survey. Fifty-six per cent of people say the numerals should not part of the curriculum for US pupils, according to research designed to explore the bias and prejudice of poll respondents.

The digits 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 are referred to as Arabic numerals. The system was first developed by Indian mathematicians before spreading through the Arab world to Europe and becoming popularised around the globe.

A survey by Civic Science, an American market research company, asked 3,624 respondents: “Should schools in America teach Arabic numerals as part of their curriculum?” The poll did not explain what the term “Arabic numerals” meant.

Some 2,020 people answered “no”. Twenty-nine per cent of respondents said the numerals should be taught in US schools, and 15 per cent had no opinion.”

I am resisting the temptation to mock American ignorance. If we did the same survey in the UK, I wonder what kind of result we would get.

Hadley Freeman,  a very anglicised American, under the guise of giving advice to Meghan Markle, has been writing about being an American mother bringing up a child in the UK. She gets particularly agitated about what the child should call the mother: mummy or mommy?

She writes: “Yes, the tweeness of “mummy” sets American dentistry on edge, but I can guide the duchess through this transatlantic minefield.”

Well, tweeness is as tweeness does. “Mom” simply grates on my ear! But I have to agree that when grownups refer to their parents as “mummy” and “daddy” it does sound a bit precious.

A French friend of mine used to speak of her mother, then well into her nineties, as “mummy” but we forgave her as it was just a direct translation of the French “maman”. Despite my many years of speaking French, I have no idea how the French abbreviate “maman”. Perhaps they don’t. Watching Italian series on television I have, however, learnt that “mammá” and “papá” get shortened to “ma” and “pa”, both with the short “a” as it “cat”, not the longer “a” you hear in upper class English “ma” and “pa”.

Poshness and Americanness combined: the press have had access to the birth certificate of little Archie Windsor. In case people were really worried about it, we can now be reassured the little one was born in hospital and his parents did not opt for a home birth. Well, I can stop being concerned about that now.

And the child’s mother’s occupation was listed as “Princess of the United Kingdom”. Is being a princess really an occupation? Who knew? That scotches any notion that she might go back to making films.

Now, how about maternity leave? I seem to remember reading about Kate Windsor, another “Princess of the United Kingdom”, coming to the end of her maternity leave for one of the offspring and resuming her duties. Do Princesses of the United Kingdom have contracts, stipulating duties and appearances? Presumably both these ladies had it all explained to them before they joined.

We can all be relieved to hear that there are raven chicks in the Tower of London for the first time in thirty years. I was amused by the headline for this little article: “Raven chicks born at Tower of London for first time in 30 years”. I thought that birds hatched rather than being “born”. Or is that just a linguistic technicality?

I am pretty sure there are superstitions relating to the ravens and the tower. Here we go - legend has it that if the ravens ever leave the Tower of London, both the Tower and the Kingdom will suffer.

Maybe the arrival of new chicks, which tellingly began to hatch on St George’s Day, bodes well for the end of the Brexit crisis.

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