Now that I have reanimated my blog and am multi-tasking like crazy (I’ve read that multi-tasking only works for women in their twenties, and that ship has long since sailed, but I can’t resist the temptation), I want to start with what will be a recurring topic: my love of precise use of the English language.
I consider myself to be more or less bilingual, having lived non-stop in Germany since August of 1976, but I read and write for pleasure in English and am by nature a wordsmith (though trying to become a storyteller). Naturally my use of the English language is not perfect, but that doesn’t keep me from admiring perfection wherever I find it.
Germans love to take words from the English language and incorporate them into the German language, often changing the meaning along the way. A “smoking”, for example, is a noun in German and means “tuxedo”; a “beamer” is a projector; a “handy” is a cell phone; “trampen” is “hitchhiking”; the “city” is the downtown area, etc.
Most of these imported English expressions get on my nerves, since they involve misuse and abuse of the English language. The next person in my presence who says or writes “happy end” instead of “happy ending” takes his life into his hands.
I know, “his hands”. I accept the fact that languages change, including English. And I realize that some change is necessary for pronouns referring to transgender, genderqueer, intersex, nonbinary, etc., human beings because all human beings deserve respect in language treatment. So far this function has been delegated to the forms of “they”, “their”, etc., these being gender ambiguous. I understand the theory but it annoys me that the forms of “they” are now less precise than before. There is no way of knowing if forms of “they” refer to singular or plural antecedents.
But getting back to the reason for this blog: At the train station a few weeks ago I saw a huge McDonald’s ad for “Hamburger Royal You Can Eat”. For a native speaker of English this is quite puzzling. Surely McDonald’s doesn’t want to imply that you can’t eat all of its products. Does this hint at cannibalism, eating those of royal blood? Or does it inform clueless royals that they are allowed to eat at McDonald’s?
No, the answer is more convoluted. Quarterpounders (as we learned in Pulp Fiction) are called Hamburger Royal in Germany due to truth in advertising laws. McDonald’s quarterpounders aren’t a quarter of a metric pound, 125 grams, but rather at most a quarter of an American pound, ca. 114 grams.
And, of course, Germans pronounce “royal” with the stress on the second syllable. So the clever ad should be pronounced “roy all you can eat”, which no doubt the ad people at McDonald’s thought was extremely clever and which works well for people with English as a second language.
But due to my love of precise use of the English language, to me this is never-ending fingernails running up and down a blackboard.