Not Saussure

September 27, 2006

EU rule on Mumbai Mix? You could make it up, apparently.

Filed under: EU, Foreigners, press, Spin — notsaussure @ 12:25 pm

This story, which I came across via the blog of the EU vice-president Margot Wallström , which I came across, in turn, because Tim Worstall was having some justified fun at her expense (all these links — I think it’s called intertextuality in literary theoory) isn’t new, but it was new to me, and I’m blogging it partly so I know where to find it again. Anyway, it concerns a story in The Sun about how

NUTTY EU officials want to rename Bombay mix MUMBAI mix — to make the snack politically correct.

They say the Indian city of Bombay has been called Mumbai since 1995 so the old name could offend because it dates back to colonial rule.

A source said: “The EU is considering revising the labelling of Bombay mix because Mumbai has been in the news a lot recently and people in Europe now realise that Mumbai is the new name for Bombay.”

and they managed to get a quote from

Shadow Europe Minister Graham Brady [who] condemned the move.

He said: “It is exactly the kind of ludicrous regulation that gives Brussels such a bad name and gets in the way of successful business.”

Usually such have a grain of truth in them because someone’s — usually intentionally — misinterpreted a regulation; when you’re trying, for example, to harmonise 25-odd sets of national regulations as to what may be sold as a ‘grade A’ rather than ‘grade B’ cucumber — asked for by the industry so that supermarket buyers can buy stock for their stores sight unseen, since the potential for expensive confusion if the growers, wholesalers and retailers all have different definitions is obvious — you end up with headlines about curvy cucumbers being banned. The EU, by the way, has a helpful list of such myths, I discovered (no, we’re not going have to rename Waterloo Station and Trafalgar Square to avoid offending the French.)

This story, however, didn’t ring true to The Telegraph’s David Rennie, who did a bit of digging and, unusally, was able to trace where it started:

So where did the story start? The answer, I found, was with a small regional news agency in the south of England (I shall not name it, to avoid getting into messy legal territory). Anyway, it is enough to say that I called them up, and ended up speaking to their news editor, who cheerfully admitted the story was his idea (though he gave it to one of his reporters to write up).

Help me out here, I asked him. Is this a Commission proposal, or does this come from the European Parliament? Is it a directive working its way through the Council of Ministers? He had no answer. The story, he explained, came from a mate of his at the Home Office, who had heard it being talked about.

Had he tried to pin it down, and found any piece of paper discussing the change? Had he found a manufacturer who had been advised to alter a product name?

He sounded impatient with me at this point. Look, he said, this is just meant to be funny for the tabloids.

I tried a last question. Given that his news agency was running the story as an established fact, had he put it to the Commission at all? Oh, you know what it’s like getting an answer out of Brussels, he said. I did ask the reporter to put in a call.

So in other words, you have no evidence that this story is true at all, I concluded. Look, it’s just something light, he said, almost pleadingly.

Nevertheless, it appeared not only in The Sun but, apparently, also in The Hindustan Times, and it’s doubtless now firmly established in many people’s minds as an example of ‘political correctness gone mad’.

I’m always somewhat confused about what you’re supposed to call places. My impression when visiting the city was that it’s Bombay if you’re speaking English and Mumbai if you’re speaking Marathi, Hindi or one of the other local languages, rather as it’s Moscow or Moskva depending on whether you’re speaking English or Russian. I wonder who decides such things; it can’t be what the place is officially called in translation, as it were, since if you get a letter from the city council of what was, until recently, Leningrad, it says it’s from Sankt-Peterburg, the official transliteration of Санкт-Петербург (and it’s not pronounced anything like the way we pronounce it in English — see Wikipedia for audio link.)

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  1. It’s Bombay when speaking English, something best transliterated as “Mwmbeyi” when speaking Marathi, and something best transliterated as “Bembeyi” when speaking Hindi.

    Naturally as with all such interlinguistic situations the average English speaker hasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of saying anything that approximates a local pronunciation whether they spell it Bombay, Mumbai, Mwmbeyi or Texas.

    What would the reaction be if Paris city council announced they wanted to rename the city Paree to match the French pronunciation? Rewriting all the stories about Paree Hilton alone would cost a fortune.

    Comment by Pankaj — September 28, 2006 @ 10:52 am

  2. Thanks for the information, I needed a pick me up.

    Comment by mrskin — September 29, 2006 @ 11:05 pm

  3. Very Nice Blog , God Bless:)

    Comment by All Blogs — May 16, 2007 @ 12:38 pm

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