Hulio's in Heebraltar, smelling of hohoba

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The Independent Online
Yesterday I brought to your attention the current poster for some drink or other which says: "Alexander the Great had conquered Europe by the age of 25 ..." and asked if you could spot what was worrying about it.

The answer was so obvious that most of you felt it was beneath your dignity to answer.

Well done!

The fact is that Alexander had not conquered Europe by the age of 25.

Indeed, he never conquered it at all. He conquered a lot, yes. Otherwise he would not have been called The Great. But from his power base in Macedonia Alexander the Great headed east and conquered Persia, Egypt, India, etc. That is to say, he conquered a large part of Asia. To put it another way, he conquered no part of Europe except the few bits he had to trample on between Macedonia and Asia.

You would think that the advertisers of this drink, or even the makers of this drink, would have spotted this odd mistake before they distributed their posters round Britain proclaiming Alexander's conquest of Britain, wouldn't you ?

Well, no, you wouldn't, actually. After 15 years of Tory education, and 1,000 years of isolation, we British still don't seem to be very good at picking up other people's geography or history or language. There are, very occasionally, hopeful signs. Thanks to the popularity of the singer Julio Iglesias, and to the popularity of the shampoo ingredient jojoba, the British have just about managed to master the pronunciation of the Spanish letter "j". Just about.

But whenever there is an advance, there is also a retreat waiting to happen. I thought that when Eric Cantona came to play in England things had started to change, because by some miracle the great British public actually pronounced his name right. Can-ton-AH, they said, stressing the last syllable just as they do in France. At last! A breakthrough. But it was not to be. Newcastle United bought Ginola, and I do not think that in the North-east he is pronounced Jee-No-LAH, by analogy with Can-to- NAH, or as a Frenchman would pronounce him, but Jee-NO-la, as if he were Italian. My football friends inform me that the Newcastle manager, Kevin Keegan, sometimes refers to Ginola by his first name, David, as Dah-VEED, which is encouraging, but not a lot.

It's a tough job, getting foreign ways into our British noddles. Into our English noddles, even. One of the first things I learnt when I stayed in Scotland was that John Menzies, the Scottish equivalent of WH Smith, was pronounced "Mingies", and I have pronounced it thus faithfully ever since, though it has brought me little credit among the Sassenachs. Occasionally I am beaten up (verbally) by English people at dinner parties, who accuse me of pedantry and snobbishness and trying to suck up to the Scots. I know what they mean, because I feel exactly the same way when I hear people on Radio 3 talking about Richard Strauss and being very careful to sound the "ch" in Richard as a German would - that is to say, making it sound like the Scottish "ch".

I wouldn't mind this mild exhibitionism so much except that nobody, but nobody, ever does the same thing with Wagner. When they use his Christian name, it is always as if he were English, like Richard the Lionheart or Richard Dimbleby.

(But not Richard Van Dyke. I wonder if the Americans will ever realise the damage they caused to Anglo-American friendship when they allowed Dick Van Dyke to commit his ghastly imitation of the Cockney accent in Mary Poppins?)

So there we have it. Everyone laughs at everyone else for their misapprehensions. We laugh at the Americans for calling her Dionne "Waugh-Wick". The Scots laugh at the English for pronouncing "Waugh" as "War" when the proper Scots pronunciation is "Wauch". We laugh at the French and Spanish for losing the Battle of Trafalgar, and they laugh at us for pronouncing it "Tra-FAL-ger" when the proper pronunciation is "Tra-fal-GAR" (not to mention "Gee-bral-TAR ... ). And now we can all laugh at drinks people who believe that Alexander the Great really did conquer Europe.

Answer to yesterday's question. The question, you may remember, was: "What do you call a lot of Catholics being rude about the Government?". The winning answer, from B Hume of Westminster, is: "Critical mass".

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