English Is Talked Here

I don’t generally follow politics, mainly because I like to reinforce the idea that I’m an uninformed idiot. But I spend enough time napping at my desk in the Daily Herald newsroom to at least catch the gist of what’s going on, and this “English-only” thing is bothering me.

The proposed English-only initiative would make English the only language in which state business could be conducted, or in which official forms could be printed. Currently, the state spends as much as $7,000 a year in making things accessible in other languages, and that is clearly $7,000 too much, particularly when the entire budget for the entire state is only $7 billion, most of which is spent reimbursing motorists whose windshields have been chipped while driving on the comically unsafe I-15 freeway.

The initiative was introduced by Tammy Rowan, a Utahn surpassed in her conservatism only by Gayle Ruzicka, head of the Utah Eagle Forum (motto: “Our eagles only have right wings”). Together, Rowan and Ruzicka are so reactionary, they make John Rocker look like the chairman of National Brotherhood Week.

(Speaking of right-wing, did you see the letter to the editor in Monday’s paper comparing members of the National Rifle Association to the Jews who lived in Nazi Germany, because both groups are persecuted and have everything blamed on them? Is that the stupidest thing you’ve ever read? Of course it isn’t, because you also read the letter printed the next day, in which a reader angrily criticized the Daily Herald for announcing the title — that’s right, just the TITLE — of the new Harry Potter book before it went on sale, thus totally ruining it for her. I will have to check the postmarks on the envelopes, but I am fairly certain neither of these letter-writers is currently living on planet Earth.)

Anyway, some have said the English-only movement is “racist.” I don’t think I’d call it racist, since “people who speak a language other than English” isn’t what I’d call a “race.” But the initiative does seem like a bad idea to me for this reason: Whose version of English are we going to enforce? The Utah version? Ye gods, I hope not.

If it passes, will I have to start talking like the salesgirl at the Gap who told me, when I asked about discounted trousers, “Oh, we have lots of pants on sell, right over there on the sell wall”? Will I have to start pronouncing “whale” and “well” as homonyms? Will I have to say “mao-in” instead of “mountain,” or “tore” instead of “tour,” or “prolly” instead of “probably”?

Law or no law, under no circumstances will I ever say “Oh my heck” unless I am allowed to say real obscenities with it.

English-only? Shouldn’t we master the language ourselves before we start insisting that resident foreigners speak it, too?

The other proposed legislation that is bugging me is the one in which some people want to make Jell-O the official state food of Utah. As you may have heard, Utah used to be No. 1 in terms of Jell-O consumption, but has recently been passed by Iowa, those Jell-O-sucking corn-shuckers. To combat this injustice, the Jell-O lobbyists are pushing to make the hoof-based gelatin dessert the official food of Utah.

At the Daily Herald, we recently were paid a visit by the Jell-O Mafia, which consisted of three large-haired women who bestowed mass quantities of Jell-O products upon us, in the hopes we would give their cause some publicity. The Jell-O Mafia is to be feared, for they wield great power. Nonetheless, I will not bow to their strong-arm tactics by promoting their proposed Jell-O law. Instead, I will say that as much as I enjoy free stuff, I don’t like Jell-O, and I think Utah’s state food should be the Mormon Funeral Casserole, possibly with smashed corn flakes on top of it, so there. Gracias y buenas noches.

One of my rare forays into the political arena. I don't do it very often, mainly because, as implied here, I'm really not that interested in politics. And if I'm not interested in it, I'm not liable to find it funny.

I knew the English-only thing was a "hot button" for a lot of people, and that my commentary on it would therefore be closely scrutinized. So I wanted to make sure I used the right terminology and sound like I at least knew what I was talking about. I was so afraid, in fact, that I had Daily Herald opinion-page editor Don Meyers -- who currently possesses all knowledge -- read the column before it went anywhere. He corrected a couple minor-but-important mistakes, like that I had been calling it a "bill," when really it's an "initiative." (The difference? He dumbed it down for me, but basically, a bill is introduced by a member of the legislature and is voted upon by the legislature, while an initiative is introduced by an ordinary citizen and is voted upon by the people, assuming it gets enough signatures to make it to the ballot. There are exceptions, but that's the gist of it. Fascinating, no?)

I originally wanted to say "Adolf Hitler" instead of "John Rocker," but I knew I couldn't get away with it. Plus, I like to save my Hitler references for when I really mean them. I also wanted to call Iowans "Jell-O-sucking [word for illegitimate children]," but I knew [word for illegitimate children] would never fly in a family newspaper.

Tammy Rowan is exactly who I said she was. She's not known in Utah for much else than the English-only thing. Gayle Ruzicka is head of the Utah Eagle Forum, the local chapter of a national "pro-family" (that is, "anti-everything") organization started in 1972 by ultra-conservative Phyllis Schlafly. I actually agree with many of the ideas espoused by Ruzicka and her followers ("Ruzickatistas," Don Meyers calls them). It's her tactics I don't like, usually bringing religion into it, and making the Mormons feel like if they don't agree with her, well, they must not be in tune enough with the Spirit. Which no one wants to admit, of course, so they go along with her, even though she's insane. She gets quoted in the newspapers about every day on some issue or other, and I'd been wanting to take a swipe at her, journalistically speaking, ever since I first heard of her.

She sent me an angry letter once, actually (it is not hard to make her angry), when I ripped on a play her daughter was appearing in. The play was "Star Child," and it sucked mightily.