There was a time when American-sounding surnames were always in the news. Now it's unpronounceable Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, Philippe Douste-Blazy, Khalid al-Mihdhar, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Ramzi Binalshibh.
I feel sorry for the television news commentators who have to say Saleh al-Mutlag, Jemaah Islamiyah and assorted tongue-twisters when they come across them in the stories they're reporting, but I guess it's just part of their job.
I suppose it's all right for Al-Jazeera broadcasters to rattle off those unmanageable words. However, the American newscasters – who garble Pierre and Lead, South Dakota – have to pronounce Abu Ghraib as readily as they mouth Sing Sing.
The alphabet isn't the same in Muslimese. Take the letter "q," for instance. In English it's always followed by a "u" – as in quip, quiet and quince – but in the Middle Eastern language, it stands alone, and it sounds like a "k." So we have al-Qaida in stead of al-Kaida. It's confusing, like the "x" in Chinese – but that's another problem.
Why don't they write it like we do? On the other hand, that makes lingo uniquely foreign, and that's the way it should be. After all, it's different, like Latin, and it should have an alien look.
Getting back to the pronunciation of difficult words, I would hate to be a sportscaster and have to pronounce the names of Jeff Samardzija and Tom Zbikowski of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. I'd get the Jeff and Tom okay, but the Samardzija and the Zbikowski would throw me.
And Karolevitz is my name.
Maybe that's why I'm a writer and not an announcer. I don't have to say them, and I like it that way.
Polish with the "z's" is especially hard, but it is nothing compared to words of Iraq, Iran and Pakistan. The TV commentators can't say them like they've got mush in their mouths. They've got to articulate them like they know what they're doing – and that's not easy.
So, I'm glad that I'm not one of them. I've got enough trouble just writing a column every week.
Speaking of columns, thank goodness I don't have to type al-Mashhadani and Jemaah Islamiyah each time. I'll leave that to the news people and the editorial writers who are abreast of things.
But that doesn't stop me from feeling sorry for the talking heads who have to utter those strange expressions. I'm just glad it isn't me!
I don't mean anything about Islam, but I've got to admit their language is difficult – and I haven't said a thing about their hand-writing!
© 2006 Robert F. Karolevitz