It’s not just what you say, but how you say it

Phonetics matters, ladies and gentlemen. Mispronounce a word, and you can find yourself in trouble, or even in prison.

…for telling us how not to mispronounce Niger

Hence, by way of public service, I’ve been warning people for years to watch how they pronounce Niger and Nigeria.

A slip of the tongue can easily cause offence, and anyone feeling offended may – these days almost certainly will – seek restitution. Even if people don’t really feel offended, they’ll be instructed by authorities to re-examine their feelings and manufacture credible outrage.

Yet David Collins, a geography teacher in South London, either never heard my warnings or regrettably failed to heed them. When the subject of West Africa came up in class, he told his 14-year-old pupils not to pronounce Niger like the word than which nothing worse exists in the English language, nor indeed in our whole galaxy.

To clarify his meaning, he then helpfully provided the mispronunciation to be avoided. Predictably, his pupils didn’t feel helped. They felt offended.

The school administration instantly provided a means of expressing their wrath. Pre-printed complaint forms were issued, and the pupils were encouraged to fill them in, pulling no punches.

(Apparently, most schools provide forms for the pupils to rate their teachers. Someone ought to educate our educators that schools are different from supermarkets. Customer satisfaction forms are appropriate in the latter, not in the former. Unlike a supermarket manager, a teacher must be seen as a figure of authority who educates, not serves, his flock. Nor is it a good idea to encourage the young to snitch.)   

Shaken to its foundation, the school has felt compelled to restate its uncompromising position on its website:

“As part of our commitment to British values and spiritual, moral, social and cultural development, each half term sees a focus on a key issue relating to diversity: gender, LGBTI, immigration, race, different needs (including mental health and being differently abled) and religion. Each half term, our students can purchase badges, make pledges to show their commitment to reducing discrimination and donate to relevant causes.”

These 65 words illustrate, in conjunction with this whole episode, the catastrophe of our education, indeed the dying twilight of our whole civilisation.

A general observation first: no school capable of expressing itself in the kind of English that sounds like a bad translation from the German should be accredited to teach our young.

Since those ‘educators’ themselves speak pidgin English, it’s no wonder their pupils have to be told how not to mispronounce Niger. They evidently haven’t been taught that the first syllable in that word is what phoneticians call ‘open’, meaning ending in a vowel.

That vowel is almost always pronounced as a diphthong. At the same time, the g-sound is usually softened in a pre-vocal position. Hence any pupil aged 14 should naturally pronounce Niger like the name Nigel without the final consonant.

That’s how that country’s name always used to be pronounced in English. However, with the recent tendency towards faux authenticity, we’ve been ordered to use the Franglais pronunciation of Nee-ZHER.

That’s ridiculous: we anglicise many French names, such as Paris or Rheims, so why not Niger? But never mind that – my point is that no one with even a rudimentary knowledge of English would mispronounce that word in the criminal way.

Since the pupils of Chestnut Grove Academy in Balham possess no such knowledge, they have to be told. And the school’s administrators themselves should be told that British schoolchildren are called ‘pupils’, not ‘students’, as they are in America.

Most terms in the school’s mission statement are as offensive as the racial slur in question.  For brevity’s sake I’ll only single out “mental health and differently abled”.

The second term denotes those unable to learn much of anything. But we, the newly sensitive we, can’t say that, can we?

Yes, they may not possess the requisite ability to learn how to read, write, add up and pronounce ‘Niger’. Yet that mustn’t be construed as their having no abilities at all.

They do have abilities, but different ones. For example, those pupils could sell you a gram of coke faster than you can say ‘juvenile delinquent’, and the especially abled among them could perhaps hotwire a car in 20 seconds. I may be looking on the negative side here, but that’s only because I haven’t a clue what those different abilities may be.

As to ‘mental health’, I propose that this term be banned on pain of public flogging. Alas, this proposal hasn’t been, nor ever will be, acted upon. In fact, mental health of the young is one of the hottest news topics these days.

The logical antonym of ‘mental health’ would be ‘mental illness’, like clinical depression, paranoid delusions or schizophrenia. Hence this term belongs in psychiatric literature, not general usage. But ‘mental health’ persists in general usage, designating the opposite of a lousy mood, sadness – or outrage one is mandated to feel whenever Niger is mispronounced.

According to current data, 55 per cent of British youngsters have sought professional help for a deficit of ‘mental health’. Nevertheless, one has to discount, after momentary hesitation, the possibility that over half of our young people are, clinically speaking, nutters.

It’s just that they are drowning in the sewage of psychobabble flooding the classrooms of schools like Chestnut Grove Academy, which is to say most schools. Psychobabble and aggressive, fascisoid wokery are portrayed as the right, increasingly only, tools for inculcating “British values”.

These values are of recent vintage. In the past, the British used to be a nation of warriors, explorers, adventurers, inventors, entrepreneurs, risk takers, sturdy individuals able to take the rough with the smooth.

Now they are mass-produced to become effete snowflakes who respond to anything upsetting by running to Mummy or, when slightly older, to a shrink. In between such visits, they are indoctrinated with the tenets of the socially and culturally destructive pseudo-morality guaranteed to turn them into perverse, brain-dead barbarians.

It takes much hatred of Britain to describe the outcome of this subversive effort as ‘British values’. The prefix anti- must have fallen off by accident.

6 thoughts on “It’s not just what you say, but how you say it”

  1. “he then helpfully provided the mispronunciation to be avoided. ”

    The horror. The horror. Perhaps those countries need to be renamed so that no one may even THINK of any sort of alternative pronunciation.

  2. One upside of Britons descent into totalitarianism is the chance of producing our very own A. Boot!

    It’s really quite fascinating to think how much has changed since the publication of your first book. 2021 makes 2006 look like 1899 as far as British prestige is concerned…

    1. I haven’t looked at that book for years, but I vaguely remember that I might have predicted some of the current developments, such the criminalisation of words and thoughts. It was an easy deduction to make, actually.

  3. Nigeria?

    I always thought that this was a compound word denoting an illness or condition in which darker-skinned people suffer from frequent loose watery bowel motions. I’ve been pronouncing it accordingly, in a way that brings out the meaning, and my compassionate recognition of the fact that races suffer disproportionately.

    Have I been getting it wrong all these years?

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