Last week’s Wormseye column drew quite a range of feedback from around the world. Here’s some of it, with comments. The same thing is going up on the Guardian’s site, but they can’t do CSS so I thought I would put it here, more legibly.

Most of the people who wrote in seemed to think I was concerned with email, and not newspapers. If you want to know why email shouldn’t be a problem, there’s a good piece from the NYT here.
So can we now expect The Guardian, or at least The Wrap, to treat us to the full unexpurgated spelling of the nation’s bespectacled footballing manager?? And if not, why not? Fiona Goh/ Fiona Whyton
Editor’s note: While the Guardian is about to hold a “style” meeting debating this very subject, the Wrap has to be “read” by your email client (eg Microsoft Outlook or Lotus Notes). These sometimes scramble certain symbols, so we avoid using such letters wherever possible.
Andrew: couldn’t agree more. As a lover of Scandinavia and things Scandinavian this has irritated me beyond rationality.
I have also seen the solecism recently (not sure where but I have suspicions that it was either our beloved Grauniad or the Indy) that Hitler’s title was spelt with both the umlaut and the ‘e’ following the ‘u’. We do also mangle people’s names. Sven-Goran would be said like that (Svenyou’re-an) not ‘Sven … You’re-an’. We wouldn’t deny Jean-Paul Sartre or Hans-Werner Henze their proper names or address them as ‘Jean’ or ‘Hans’. I was politely but firmly reminded of that once by a Swedish friend called Lars-Erik (pronounced Larshereek). It’s simple courtesy.
Andrew BrownNormally, I would agree entirely. But these are >footballers. They get their names shortened whatever languagte they started off with, from Gazza to Fergie.
Get Jack Schofield to agitate for a USCII (pronounced ‘Uskey’).<B <B>Tim Pearce</B> Thanks for an unexpected insight into the problems of small cultures/languages in an American-speaking world!
Swedes (presumably the same applies to Romanians, Czechs et al) have to struggle in the cyber world: many email addresses formed from people’s names have to be adapted if they are to function online, just as many companies cannot have websites using their actual names if the names happen to include one of the three Swedish letters not recognised by ASCII.
A few companies, anticipating problems, have gone ahead and changed the company name. Skanska is the best-known example, with the first ‘a’ previously wearing a little halo and an entirely different pronunciation.</blockquote>
<b>Andrew Brown</b> I know; and I wince every time I see it.
<blockquote>But Swedes accept this with aplomb. Of course it’s slightly demeaning but Swedes (and others in the same linguistic minnows bracket) have long been used to learning another language to get by internationally. For Swedes, it has often been the language of the dominant European power – German or French have left discernible trails throughout the Swedish language, and English is widely used today for swearing. To a strange extent, Swedes actually appreciate the situation: it gives them a feeling of belonging to the wider world. And the satisfaction of being (remarkably) good at another language than their own. Swedes have contributed few words to English, perhaps because they have been so eager and skillful when it comes to learning English themselves. The one that springs to mind is ‘Skal!’ — where that ‘a’ has a halo too, and you already know how to pronounce it.<B Best from Stockholm<B <B>Kim Loughran (Aussie expat)</B></blockquote>
<b>Andrew Brown</b> Yes. There’s ‘Ombudsman’ and, er … Still, I do think that German was a better influence on Swedish that English has been. I learned the langauge after French and German, which meant that, aside from the core vocabulary of about 200 Norse words, it was astonishingly rare to come across a Swedish word in my reading whose meaning was not immediately clear.
<blockquote>There is a “universal” standard for using international characters in email. Currently, Unicode is a 16-bit standard (but with the minority orthographies still to be supported, this is likely to grow to 32-bits: 4 billion different glyphs supported) but there is a standard 8-bit way of transporting it to all of our e-mail clients. It’s called UTF-8 and if you sent your e-mail out to us as UTF-8, I think you’d find that we could all read whatever you sent to us, correctly and without vowel confusion.<B <B>Arthur N. Klassen</B></blockquote>
<b>Andrew Brown</b> This works for most of my own email. I don’t know if the Guardian could implement it, though; in any case, my real argument was not with the Wrap, but with the printed newspaper.
<blockquote>Not true! It is perfectly easy with a standard Microsoft platform (and what a pity we nearly all have to use it!) to install other European languages and switch to them when typing names etc. – even in emails.<B>Robin Brown</B>

I read your missive with much interest. As a Briton living in the Mid-Western United States, I often find myself taking exception to the horrible insularity I witness here (you thought you had it bad!). What is perhaps of most concern to me is that what is happening here in the US is in the guise of “the same language” so is even more subtle. I am in full agreement with you- “going the extra letter” instead of adopting the default “laissez-faire” attitude is essential.
On an everyday basis, I experience first-hand the pain that ignorance brings. I believe that if there was one oversight the US military have had in Iraq, it was in not preparing themselves to “speak the same language” as the local populus. Even the most basic cultural appreciation leads to proper communication, while ignorance leads to misinterpretation, fear and often resentment. Ultimately, this results in people dying. This can all be avoided with a fundamental appreciation of our differences.<B Steffen Cave

May I commend the following website,, which gives the Ascii codes for a large range of accents and umlauts. I frequently use it and, despite using a text email system, the results arrive unmangled.<B Serena
Andrew BrownAs I said above, I’m more concerned with the printed paper than with this email. It wasn’t hard to make the web page reproduce the letters I was talking about.

Ach du Lieber! The world is going to hell in a hand-basket and all Andrew Brown can find to write about is a USaphobic whinge about Swedish diacritical marks? A “worm’s eye view” seems an apt title for his column. Marc V. Schnur

Andrew Brown Since the destination of the handbasket is obvious to everyone, why should I waste your time and mine pointing it out?
As a Greek speaker there are letters that aren’t even reproducible in English let alone pronunciation which cannot even compare. Do I have to wait until a Greek politician is assassinated so the issue is raised? There are so many languages that are misrepresented and so many cultures that are ignored. It is a shame that the entire spectrum of misrepresentation wasn’t raised so as to appeal to a much wider audience and not just to Northern Europeans.<B <B>Joanna</B></blockquote> <b>Andrew Brown</b>My wife is a Russian speaker, and has similar complaints. But we have to draw the line somewhere: alphabets that are completely non-Latin, like the Cyrillic and the Greek simply can’t reasonably be reproduced in newspapers. They have to be transliterated. Of course, the transliteration needs to be consistent and to use recognisable letter combinations for foreign letters that don’t exist in English. A part of me mourns the old French transliterations of Russian names that piled up consonants like tsch. At least these made it obvious there were strange sounds there.
<blockquote>The American norms that according to you are accepted unthinkingly in Britain are not quite as you describe them and insularity is insularity whether illustrated by boorishness towards Europeans or by quips at the expense of Americans. The basic ASCII set uses 7 bits for each character, giving it a total of 128 unique symbols. There is also an extended ASCII (the A still standing for AMERICAN) character set that uses 8 bits, which gives it an additional 128 characters. The extra characters represent characters from foreign languages and special symbols for simple pictures.
By the way, this American, writing on his American computer in his Chicago office has his keyboard layout set to “American International”. This allows me to easily enter all non-English alphabetic characters, in my case when writing in Spanish. Is this also true of your keyboard?<B <B>Gabriel</B></blockquote>
<b>Andrew Brown</b>I have dead keys when I use a Swedish layout. But the real problem isn’t the difficulty of typing foreign letters. It is the fact that the newspapers can’t be bothered to print them.
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3 Responses to Feedback

  1. Rupert says:

    I’m reminded of those apocryphal stories of Ellis Island immigration. “Wr

  2. el Patron says:

    Originally, an Irish immigrant, famouls for his folk tales: Seaghan O’Pocryphal

  3. Rupert says:

    Best Oirish name joke I heard recently — and I’ve been told is true, honest — is that Air Lingus has a habit of naming its aircraft after saints – St Margaret, St Theresa and so on.

    The flight sim is called St Thetic.


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