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Funbag

English Is Killing Off Other Languages And That Is Not Good

Lionel Green/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Time for your weekly edition of the Defector Funbag. Got something on your mind? Email the Funbag. And buy Drew’s new book, The Night The Lights Went Out, while you’re at it. Today, we’re talking about best country names, chopsticks, ice skating, and more.

Your letters:

John:

What would it be like if English was the only language on planet earth?

It would suck. In fact, you’re getting a pretty good idea of what that all-English world would look like right now because, since 1900, the number of English speakers worldwide has increased nearly fivefold. It is now the most spoken language on the planet (second is Mandarin). Over HALF of all online content is in English. The Gilded Age and the American Century were also a linguistic revolution. When the U.S. puts a McDonald’s in Mongolia or some other far-flung locale, it’s also putting English there. As such, you can travel all across the world and have little worry about being understood.

That’s convenient, but also lousy. Over 200 languages have gone extinct since 1950. That’s not a coincidence. When English invades a country, it can wipe out other tongues entirely, like vocal smallpox. You don’t want this. English itself is the byproduct of other languages, and those languages have their own cadence, their own structure, their own history, and their own personality. There are not just foreign words that don’t translate to English, but also foreign ideas as well. Important ones.

And listen, I’m just like anyone else who gets frustrated anytime I enter into an exchange with someone who can’t speak English and I can’t speak their language. You go from zero to xenophobia in 12 seconds. But I’ve lived long enough now to appreciate the differences between languages, and to understand foreign languages (at a very rudimentary level) even when I don’t understand the words behind them. I love it when movies have a bit of foreign dialogue in a scene and they don’t bother to add subtitles because the filmmakers trust that you can still tell what’s happening. If you killed off every other foreign language and gentrified every last tongue on Earth, you’d lose differences between cultures, you’d lose opportunities for English itself to evolve, and you’d lose the mellifluousness of, say, French. Honh honh honh.

The bad news is that not only are we on pace to lose some of those things, but that those losses are part of the business model. If the advent of the internet can relegate every other language to minority status, well man I don’t think Zuck is designing a metaverse where you can order a virtual taco in Swahili.

Drew (not me):

I like to check a handful of websites every morning when I wake up (The Atlantic, Politico, etc.). Are there any lesser known websites that are worth checking out on a daily basis?

I’ve been reliant on Twitter for news and commentary for so long now that, Defector aside, I don’t really go to other websites. Even after I took Twitter off my phone, I never bothered to replace checking it with old-fashioned web surfing. I read the headlines on the Washington Post homepage in the morning, sometimes the NYT or ESPN too, and that’s about it. Otherwise, I play escape room games. I am a living metaphor.

The catch is that I like it this way. I’ve spent so much time covering the rest of the media that I know exactly how substandard it can be. I know when a Times article is a waste of time from the opening paragraph alone. I need all of my news pre-read by designated news tasters. That’s the job of my Twitter follows, and they did that job well until I got burned out on the rest of the world’s bullshit. Now, every morning, I just drink my coffee and stare out the window at my backyard. Makes me feel like I’m the main guy in a really boring novel. I love it. If there’s important news to be had out there, it’ll make its way to my door. I don’t fret about staying current as much as I used to. I’m happier cutting sites out of my life than I am adding them.

That was a really long-winded way of me telling you to stop reading Politico.

John:

I love sushi. Always have. But, for the life of me, I can’t figure out how chopsticks work (I’m late 30s, btw). I always ask for a fork, and I always feel some sense of shame in doing so, as if I’m an ugly American who doesn’t accept the proper way of eating a foreign cuisine. Because of this, I tend to eat at more trendy sushi restaurants, while avoiding more traditional (and better) restaurants. I want to eat at those cool places, but I’m scared to do so. Is it bad that I eat sushi with a fork?

I don’t judge people who can’t use chopsticks. I know other grown adults who have failed to master them, but it was never from a lack of effort. My kids are still trying to get the hang of chopsticks and have been for years. I get much more judgey when people refuse sushi, or any other kind of exotic-not-exotic foodstuff, because they’re boring eaters. Go back to Wisconsin with your whitebread horseshit if that’s how you roll. But I support people who want to try everything, including new utensils, even if it doesn’t quite work out for them. I would tell John to just eat sushi with his hands. No fork required there.

By the way, I eat Thai food with chopsticks even though I’ve been reminded, many times, that chopsticks are rarely used in Thailand. I’ve overcorrected. Got too thirsty with my ‘sticks.

Mike:

I’m coaching my eight-year-old’s basketball team. It’s fun, but with all the expected troubles. Being all eight, we call it a win if everyone is on the right half of the court. Have you ever coached your kids? Teeing you up to go all Peter King on us here.

Barely. I haven’t coached my children in any serious form. I’ve been roped into assistant coaching for soccer, which entailed me setting up cones around the field and then fetching any shots that went into the bushes. I’ve also taught both my sons football basics—make a picture window to catch the ball, etc.—in private, but never as part of a greater team exercise. I put my nephew through run and pass blocking drills last summer when we were all on vacation together. I held a pool skimmer out and had him fire out underneath it and shit. It was AWESOME. Made me feel like Don Shula.

But I lack the knowledge (at least outside of football) and the gravitas to coach any of my kids’ teams. No one listens to me. No one respects me. My face was made for you to point at it and laugh. The one thing I did a year ago was become the manager of my older son’s soccer team, which involved me registering all the players, collecting fees, doing a one-hour SafeSport seminar on how to not be an abuser, and sending out emails with game details week by week. This has been, shockingly, one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. All the other parents are so grateful to be spared all the paperwork that they’ve been incredibly nice to me for the relatively small amount of effort I’ve had to put in.

Except I blew a game time last week and my son’s team ended up having to forfeit. Oh, and I miscalculated the fees for this coming season, so now I have to go ask everyone for more money. Clearly I have work to do in the managerial department.

Peter:

Is there anything more useless than a defensive penalty after a score where the team has the option to enforce it on the kickoff? Great, the kicking team gets to blast it through the end zone from the 50 instead of the 35. What if instead they allow the scoring team the option to instead hold on to the penalty and use it on ANY play later in the game? 

No to your idea. No. Bad. Boo. The after-score penalty is one of my favorite penalties specifically because it means jack shit. That’s a free penalty you can use to taunt or to give an opponent a little bit of extra business. I don’t want that shit ENFORCED. I just watched a Super Bowl marred by endless flags on the game-winning drive. It sucked cosmic ass. With one notable exception, I want all flags picked up and all whistles swallowed. I don’t want more of the worst part of football.

Rob:

Just watching the USMNT soccer game and was watching a keeper just ream his teammates out on the field during the game. I realized that I see goalies scream at their teammates and stomp around more openly than any other players in any other team sport. Can you think of any other sport where players do this as consistently, as in every game where a goal is scored?

Quarterbacks come close, but not quite. No other player in sports is more liable to immediately throw his teammates under the bus than a keeper, but there’s a good reason for that. The keeper isn’t the only player on the team responsible for goal prevention, but it sure as shit looks that way anytime they get beat. That goal could have been the result of poor defensive positioning or a sloppy pass close to the box, so the keeper is EXTREMELY motivated to make that clear the second any goal happens. Otherwise, he’s gonna bear all of the team’s collective embarrassment. Everyone in the stadium is gonna be like, “That asshole keeper lost the game for us! Let’s throw a bag of screws at him!”

So what does the keeper do? They hold their arms out and stare down their teammates, like Brian Kelly after his team just committed holding. That way, the crowd is like, “Oh gee, that fullback must have really fucked up there … let’s go egg his car.” It’s a bankable way of protecting your reputation.

Steve:

With the announcement of the Commanders, Washington now has the Nationals, Wizards, Capitals, and Commanders. Is that the worst set of team names in a single city, or is there something more cringe inducing out there? 

Can I count Brooklyn since the Dodgers are gone and Nets is the stupidest nickname in the NBA? No? In that case, Atlanta. Atlanta has the Hawks, the Falcons, and the Braves. One of those names is a racist moniker made even more racist by its fans. The other two nicknames are so anodyne that they fit in seamlessly with Atlanta’s historic indifference to its own teams. Who’s EVER gonna give a shit about a team named the Hawks? Fucking generic, we-don’t-have-the-naming-rights-ass name. Terrible. At least D.C. has the Capitals, which fits in locally and sounds good off the tongue. Atlanta’s options are worse than a Hard Rock cafe menu.

Honorable mention to Los Angeles, whose only good team name was stolen from Brooklyn. Otherwise, you have the Angels (they don’t even play in L.A.!), the Clippers (no one knows what a clipper is supposed to be and the people who DO know are annoying about it), the Lakers (stolen AND topographically inaccurate), and the Chargers and Rams, both of whose names are cool only because their accompanying uniforms are cool. And the Rams ruined their own uniforms just a couple of years ago, so the cachet is diminished. Los Angeles, you’re on watch. Get your shit together. The only time I ever want you to resemble Atlanta and D.C. is in Cities With The Worst Traffic surveys.

HALFTIME!

Todd:

You spent a good portion of your youth growing up in Minnesota, correct? I’ve always been curious how decent an ice skater you might be. Do tell. 

I’m a fucking terrible skater now. I can go around the public rink without having to hold onto the edge for dear life, but that’s about the extent of my current skating prowess.

It wasn’t always this way. In fact, I am living proof that, unlike riding a bike, you CAN forget how to skate. I played hockey when I was very young and living in Chicago. I could do a hockey stop. I could skate backward like a pro, waving my ass from side to side to gather backwards momentum. I could stick handle a little bit. My folks would drive me to games in Peoria at o’dark thirty every weekend. I was never gonna make the NHL, but I could at least skate.

But I quit hockey when my parents moved us from Chicago to Minnesota. This is a bass ackwards way of doing hockey, but I was 8 years old and skating hurt my ankles. I skated on frozen lakes after we moved but that was the extent of it. After I left Minnesota, I never skated again until I had kids of my own. In those intervening years, I forgot how to hockey stop, and skate backward, and stick handle. If you watched me skate now, you’d never know that I used to be able to do any of that shit. I look like a neophyte.

I have regrets. I had a stoner geology professor in college who played pick-up hockey in his off-hours and it looked like a fucking blast. And it’s just FUN to know how to skate. I liked getting on the rink and doing all my hockey moves. Once you get the hang of skating and start to glide, it feels like you’re cheating physics. Sometimes I dream of retiring and getting good at skating again, good enough to play hockey with other old fogies. Then I’d take a hip check near the boards and have my brain explode all over again. Fucking sweet.

Drew (not me):

Over the last few years of American history, there seem to be one or two major events for each presidency that results in a lot of books, movies, documentaries, etc. about the man in the office. The Cuban Missile Crisis and the JFK Assassination, Watergate, the Iran Hostage Situation, the Reagan Assassination attempt, the Lewinsky Scandal, 9/11 and the Iraq War. Looking back at Obama, is there any period of weeks or months of his presidency that would make for an interesting movie? Or was his truly a boring presidency? 

The obvious answer here is the killing of bin Laden. You could make an entire docudrama about the famous Situation Room photo and have it win 900 Oscars. Very easy. Also, it’d probably have a bunch of wrong shit in it.

If you wanna get wonkier, you could probably do a whole movie about the birth of Obamacare, but I’ve been on Obamacare and I can’t say it was the most riveting experience of my life. I remember Obama’s eight years in office mostly for him hoping that Republicans would be cool and that his own party would be functional, and then getting his shit ruined. Reminds me of another president I know. So I’m not pumped to watch any two-hour Sorkin opus where Obama responds to the rise of the Tea Party by issuing his 25 favorite books of 2011.

In general, I do think it’s better when filmmakers opt to confine any portrait of a historical person or event to a tight timeframe. The best movie I ever saw about Hitler was Downfall, which portrays only what its title suggests. There’s no 15-minute flashback to Young Adolf getting chewed out by his art teacher. Director Oliver Hirschbiegel didn’t bother with any of that crap because A) he trusted audiences knew his main character quite well already, and B) you can convey that sort of personal history in the now, with specific lines or even a single facial expression. You don’t HAVE to tell the literal story of a person’s life. That’s cheap and boring. And that’s why if I ever made a movie about Obama, it would focus squarely on the night he slow jammed the news for Jimmy Fallon. Such a rich moment in our times.

Joe:

What pest do you think would be the most tolerable to have infested your home? My coworkers and I are split between ladybugs or butterflies. I’m team ladybug, specifically because butterfly implies that your home would also be infested with caterpillars and gross cocoon shit. Am I way off? Is there a better bug out there?

You don’t want a butterfly infestation. They would block the TV, man. That’s not cool. We get stink bugs in the house around spring and while I’ve come to accept stink bugs as family, that affection recedes anytime they fly onto the TV or do a bunch of weird chirping shit under a lampshade. They are infringing upon my lifestyle when they do such things, and therefore must pay. Butterflies, pretty as they are, would be similarly undisciplined. I can’t allow it.

Ladybugs, by contrast, never bother me. Every time I see one, I announce it to the house in jubilation. It’s primo dad news. Then I stare at the ladybug for a full minute before I get bored and walk away. Ladybugs are one of the rare insects that transcends “bug” status for me, therefore I do not fear them. I wouldn’t be overjoyed to see 500 of them hanging out inside a loaf of bread I just bought. But otherwise, they can stick around.

Very small shoutout to lantern bugs, which infest the outside of our house every winter but do nothing all that objectionable during their stay. I can handle lantern bugs. Beats cave crickets any month of the year.

Jon:

In school, should each subject get a specific color for notebooks and folders? My friends are butting heads over what color each subject in school is meant to have. We all agree social studies is yellow and science is green, but one of them is insistent math should be red and the other thinks math is blue. I agree with red, because math might as well be a color that agitates you, but is this really the best way?

Holy shit, I forgot about all those color codes. I didn’t even see Buzzfeed’s requisite “let’s remember when this one thing was a thing” treatment of the subject a year ago. And I have kids, so excuses are scant. I definitely remember science being green. The rest I get confused with the varying colors of Trivial Pursuit categories. Remember the Entertainment pie piece? It was pink!

My kids have notebooks for each subject, but they don’t appear to obey any kind of color scheme. I just broke into the 9-year-old’s backpack just to make certain. Frankly, I thought he and the other two would be well past subject notebooks, binders, pencil boxes, and all the other accoutrements of 1980s education. I thought they’d do all their shit on whizzbang tablets and never crack open a dead tree textbook. I was wrong. My boy’s backpack weighs 90 pounds. It has all the same shit I used to carry in mine, plus a school-issued Chromebook and a big-ass water bottle. His spinal column will look like a question mark by age 19. Terrible.

Matt:

What is the best division in pro sports? And why is it the NFC East? They each have great rivalries with each other-it feels like there is always legitimate history when any two of them play each other. 

You only feel that way because the NFC East gets a primetime game every fucking week of the season. It’s a miserable division that only entertains the nation when it struggles as a collective, which happens quite often.

Just to be a smarmy prick, I’ll go with the Pacific Division in the NBA. Divisions mean nothing in the NBA anymore, but when one of them has the Warriors, Clippers, Lakers, Suns, and Kings, that’s a goodass division. Except for the Kings part.

Lee:

I heard She Drives Me Crazy by Fine Young Cannibals on the radio the other day and it struck me that that song is like a guy. Can songs be remembered in the same way as Guys? 

One hundred percent. I love to remember songs and bands. Remember Sleeze Beez? I spent YEARS trying to find one of their albums when I was a teenager because I thought “Stranger Than Paradise” was such a good song when I saw the video for the first time. I never saw that video again, no matter how much MTV I watched.  So I hunted around every Sam Goody for the tape, even asking the clerks.  No dice.  I was crushed.

I had a fit of nostalgia a while back and looked that song up on Spotify, where it was sitting around for anyone to listen. I couldn’t have been happier to finally unearth it. In retrospect, the song isn’t very good. But I liked remembering it.

I also remember seeing the “She Drives Me Crazy” video for the first time when I was young. Roland Gift’s voice fucked me up. I thought he was joking with that voice. He was not.

Dane:

I saw you reference Montenegro in the last Funbag and it got me thinking, isn’t “United States of America” an extremely lame thing to call a country? It seems so administrative and dull. I think we have the worst country name. Which is the best? Montenegro is objectively a banger. Luxembourg slaps. Chad…ok not incredible but it has a certain ring to it.

I used to pore over maps and lists of flags when I was a kid and would become attracted to a country based on its name or flag alone. It’s how I learned about Qatar, which I liked because its name had a Q in it. I also loved Bhutan because its flag had a dragon. By contrast, the USA’s name and flag are pretty fucking dry. If we had named the joint Cassexis, everything would have been much cooler. Alas. Anyway, here’s my list of kickass country names, in no particular order even though Dane asked for that:

  • Egypt, my top choice
  • Brazil
  • Azerbaijan
  • Bahamas
  • Mexico
  • Russia
  • Côte d’Ivoire
  • Chile
  • Camaroon
  • Iceland
  • Honduras
  • Japan
  • Madagascar
  • Mongolia
  • New Zealand
  • Pakistan
  • Panama, because of the song
  • Switzerland
  • Zambia

The worst? Turkey. Really misleading.

David:

When I recognize a song in a movie but it is being sung in a foreign language, for some reason I get weirdly excited, no matter which song it is. For example, I just saw The House of Gucci and there is an Italian version of “I’m a Believer” originally by The Monkees. Now that song is fine, in a nostalgia-y sense, but otherwise, I wouldn’t care one way or the other. But suddenly it’s being sung in Italian and my interest goes up ten-fold. Is it just me, or is this a common reaction?

I react the same way because the foreign language turns it into a brief mystery. I know the tune, but the words are different, so it takes me a split second to deduce which song I’m actually hearing. That’s a stimulating intellectual pursuit at my age. No word on if Sleeze Beez ever had their works covered in Danish.

Email of the week!

Sean:

There’s a dude at work who takes off his pants when he poops. Every now and then, I walk into the communal office men’s room and see the bottoms of dress pant legs dangling below the inside of a closed stall door. Clearly, the pooper in question is taking them off and hanging them on a hook before getting started. At first I thought it was weird but the more I think about it, it’s kind of brilliant. It keeps the pants off the dirty floor and free of wrinkles. What say you? Is pants-off pooping kosher in the workplace?

That’s pervert shit.