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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

I don’t care for how many Ukranians say ‘Ukraine’, if any of them think we should say ‘Ukraine’, they can swivel, as in English, it is and has been, ‘The Ukraine’.

– Samizdata commenter Mr. Ed.

28 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • phwest

    While I share the general sentiment, in this specific case I disagree. The use of “the” in this context implies that Ukraine is a region rather than a country. It is shorthand for “The Ukrainian region of…”. So while it still feels unnatural, I try and use Ukraine.

  • What about Netherlands then?

  • Mr Ed

    phwest, my point is that I say what sounds ‘right’ linguistically, I do not subordinate my speech to political considerations or sensitivities, or ‘Newspeak’. Anyone who wishes to say ‘Ukraine’ is free to jar my ears, but is they disagree with me that my version is correct, they may either speak a slightly different language to me, or they may be suffering from Lenin’s spawn’s mind-bending, and insisting that I think like them.

    Did ‘the Netherlands’ become ‘Netherlands’ during or after WW2? If it did, I have missed that, as I said earlier, ‘the Argentine’ is now perhaps archaic for South Venezuela Without Oil, but one would could still say it.

    Does one say ‘Vatican City’ or ‘The Vatican City’? ‘The Holy See’ or ‘Holy See’?

    About the correctness of the article I am definite.

  • ‘the Argentine’ is now perhaps archaic for South Venezuela Without Oil, but one would could still say it.

    Perhaps it is just the strange circles I move in, but I actually hear ‘the Argentine’ quite a bit (my immediate neighbours do the polo pony thing) 😉

  • Douglas2

    Oddly enough, I tend to call Österreich Austria, and I’ve heard others use names such as Großbritannien and Angleterre without taking them aside to say “…but that is not what the locals call it…”

  • I am not a native English speaker Ed, so my question is real. Forget the Netherlands, why not the Lithuania, or the Estonia, or the Georgia? I understand the convention, but I’m trying to see if there’s any logic behind it.

  • Laird

    Well, since I inadvertently started this rather odd sidebar discussion, I’ll pile on and say that Mr Ed’s take on it “feels” right to me. I imagine that readers in The United Kingdom and The United States might agree as well.

  • Mr Ed

    Alisa, logic and English (and many English) parted company long ago. This BBC article is actually quite fair, after a ‘PC’, start. Perhaps we can blame the Germans who came to England with their language long ago, then the Norman French who did the same. The Netherlands is quite clear as it is a collection of lands.

    At the end of the day, it is because it is, there’s no more an answer than why do we have ‘The Beatles’ but not ‘The ABBA’, both made-up names, but that is what they call themselves and they are still current terms, and in the collaborative genius that is British English, to call ‘The Ukraine’ ‘Ukraine’ sounds as odd to me as saying ‘The ABBA’.

    Does anyone know what they do in Norway where, apart from having two main languages, they use (in brief) ‘en’ or ‘et’, as a suffix for ‘the’, so they might say something like ‘Ukraineen’ (or not).

    Since I’m told Ukrainian has no definite article, what’s the point of any of them complaining about us using one? They literally do not know what they are talking about, and if they did, the use of a definite article would, on their own terms, distinguish their country as ‘THE Borderland’, as opposed to any old one.

    Any perhaps we could kindly suggest that worrying about vandalising our language for political reasons is just the kind of thinking that they need far less of in the Ukraine.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Well, my position is that it’s just good manners to call people what they call themselves. The tendency of some Republicans to insist on ‘the Democrat party’, for instance, strikes me as petty and foolish.

    So if the Ukranians want to call their country ‘Ukraine’, and not ‘The Ukraine’ or ‘Ukrania’, why not go along? It’s no skin off anybody’s arse.

  • Julie near Chicago

    PfP–I absolutely hate “the Democrat Party.” I’ve been assuming that it’s a way of avoiding the idea that the Democrats are Democratic in any honest sense (long discussion of that forgone), but it may be just one more example of how illiterate Americans (at least) have become. Not knowing how to form a word in a given part of speech from a word in another part of speech…not knowing when to use the subject vs. the direct-object form of pronouns…not knowing the rule about doubling the final consonant after a short vowel (“combatting,” NOT “combating,” which would properly be pronounced “comBAYting”; “traveller” not “traveler”); etc., etc. I could go on and on.

    “LIKE” is NOT a conjunction!!!

    . . .

    Now, speaking as Dolores Umbrage’s linguistic spokesman at Samizdata, I want it thoroughly understood that logic and consistency in naming places are all-important.

    If anyone is confused in a given case, ask me. Misusage constitutes grounds for dismissal from Samizda–er, Hogwa–er, My good graces. I will give a few examples.

    Here in the States, in the City of Chicago, there is a street called Devon Avenue. It is pronounced “De-VONNE,” regardless of the fact that a bunch of English blighters think it should be “DEV-en”-rhymes-with-seven. It’s OUR street, what do you guys know.

    (Seriously, ever since high-school French I’ve thought that word looks as if it actually started out French. Anybody? Bueller?)

    On the other hand, Chicago also has Goethe St. Can you believe it, the locals and the bus drivers think it’s “Go-EEthee” (soft th, as in “think). I always want to say, “Go EEthee, young man!”

    Or consider Batavia, Illinois–the home of Fermilab. My countrypeople countrymen are so uneducated that they think it’s “Ba-TAY-via.” That includes the ignorant Ba-TAH-vians who live there.

    Whereas any fool knows it’s “MorAYvia,” not “MorAHvia.”

    Lastly, why in the H-E-double-toothpicks do people insist on “BarBAYdos” when they all know perfectly well that that delicious apple brandy is “CalVAHdos”???

    Is a puzzlement.

    So speaking as Posey Pinks’–er, Dolores Umbrage’s–representive here, I proclaim that henceforth we English-speakers will continue to use the definite article where appropriate in country-names, such as “the Ukraine” and “the Ivory Coast.” And, yes, “the Netherlands”–although personally I’m partial to “Holland.”

    Inexcusably, we over here are supposed to call it Myanmar and also Mumbai. I like Burma, Ceylon, and Bombay, myself. I also like Beiping (which was it’s name during the 8 years I spent in grade school.) “Pekin,” on the other hand, is a town in downstate Illinois. :>)

    I trust all this is now clear to everyone. Consistency is All, and when you want to know what is Consistent in these matters, I will tell you. 😉

  • KTWO

    It all seems foolish. Languages differ. People seem determined to quarrel about the trivial.

    Even countries that supposedly use the same language really don’t.
    Australia, Canada, the UK, the US. The same is true in the dozens of Spanish speaking nations.

    Shall I visit Rome or Roma? I can hardly remember which was the more pleasant.

  • Mr Ed

    People seem determined to quarrel about the trivial.

    It is not trivial if people tell you that you are wrong for speaking your own language as it is, with their objection based on political objections to your own language, it is a symptom of a dangerous obsession with words, as in ‘newspeak’. Unrecovered ‘Soviet Man’. If they cannot see that, they are unlikely, it seems to me, to ever grasp freedom as a concept, or tolerance, or an apolitical life, and so repeat the errors and crimes of the past.

  • Snorri Godhi

    “Ukraine” is clearly preferable over “the Ukraine” because the latter is a waste of ASCII characters. You are free to clutter your terminal, but what about mine?

    The Netherlands is another matter. If i said that i worked in Netherlands, that would sound a bit odd, so i say that i worked in the Netherlands. I don’t say that i worked in Holland, because it would be a lie. (See wikipedia if you don’t know what i am talking about.)

    Saying “Myanmar” would be kowtowing to totalitarians, so i don’t. Of course it’s just a small symbolic gesture.

  • KTWO

    Mr Ed. I think we have the same position. Trying to force word usage or grammar upon others is a dangerous obsession. One which can also become a government mandate. That is indeed not trivial. Newspeak was forced.

    What seems trivial to me is caring about the everyday usage and grammar of others at home or abroad. Strict usage is seldom important.

    But on occasion it can prevent serious misunderstandings.

    For example: As I recall, in Atlanta there are many places using the name “Peachtree”: Peachtree Street, Avenue, Lane, Plaza, Corner, Annex, Mall, Road, etc. The visitor better know which one is meant.

  • RRS

    Actually, the Russian language makes little use of the definite article. Right, Alisa?

    But in conveying the viewpoint of the Ukrainian territory, the geographic area, it’s peoples, and their relation to the history of Muscovy and greater Russia, it is important to Russian scholars that those who understand all that in terms of English would use “the” for a grasp of their concept of “The Ukraine.”

    To place that viewpoint in some context, it is similar to our use of “The West” or “The South” for portions of the United States.

    The importance in the past had been the identification of the areas adjoining the Cossacks and Tatars as well as the Ruthenian descendents of the original Rus. To the northern and western Slavs (greater Russia, Lithuania and Poland) that was a different world with a totally different form of social orders and cultures. Thus, the use of “the” emphasizes the “Russian” viewpoint of the territory occupied by Ukrainians (historically a very mixed bag).

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Julie near Chicago
    March 8, 2014 at 9:07 pm

    PfP–I absolutely hate “the Democrat Party.” I’ve been assuming that it’s a way of avoiding the idea that the Democrats are Democratic in any honest sense (long discussion of that forgone), but it may be just one more example of how illiterate Americans (at least) have become.

    Nope, the horses’ arse branch of the conservative movement is quite explicit that it’s to disavow any hint of the Democrats being ‘democratic’. For the moment, at least, we can leave illiteracy – if not sophomoric ‘cleverness’ – to the Left.

  • Julie near Chicago

    PfP — Insofar as we’re only talking about the political, public-relations aspect of wishing to avoid any implication that the Democrats (my pet name for them is “the Dims,” but never mind) are democratic, I’m not sure why that in itself consigns one to the h.a. category. It seems perfectly logical to me, and akin to calling Tea Partiers “teabaggers.” I guess that proves I’m an h.a. myself. >:(

    And it would be far more honest for the Dems to re-name themselves the Socialist Party, but of course from their point of view it would be foolish.

  • I’m surprised Alisa hasn’t pointed this out, but the reason why Ukrainians don’t call it The Ukraine is most likely because the Ukrainian and Russian languages don’t use articles: one of the common mistakes Russian speakers make in English is to omit “a” and “the” because they don’t know how to apply them. The anomaly Ukraine has in the Russian language is that you say you were “on Ukraine” as opposed to “in Ukraine”. I have no idea why.

  • And the reason we say the Netherlands is quite obviously because the word is formed from an adjective and a noun, as opposed to a made-up name. It’s the same as saying “the highlands”.

  • Mr Ed

    Right, we know where we all stand. But which end of the boiled egg to open first?

  • Jacob

    I was annoyed when a Canadian friend who saw a pair of jeans and said: They are “leevays”. I had no idea what he was talking about. After an investigation I figured they were Levi’s.
    “Leh-vee” is an ancient Hebrew name, from the Bible, probably the most common (frequently used) one, even now, like Smith in English. And it’s Leh-vee, not Lee-vay.
    So, what’s the correct name of the jeans?

  • Julie near Chicago

    Jacob: Clearly you have the misfortune of not being a Native American like Mr. Levi Strauss, co-inventor of the famous American blue-jeans, which were thus “Levi’s Jeans.” ;>)

    “Levi” rhymes with “knee-high,” so “Levi’s” rhymes with “knee-highs.”

    Whereas my folks’ best friend, the lucky doc who got to drain my sinuses twice a year when I was little, was Dr. Benjamin Levy. Pronounced just as you say.

  • Jacob

    Well, Levi Strauss wasn’t a Native American either, having been born in Germany in 1829, and emigrated to the US at the age of 18. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Levi_Strauss. It doesn’t matter if you spell it Levi or Levy, it’s the same name. Maybe Levi Strauss choose “lee-vay” as the pronunciation for his brand-name or maybe it was a distortion by “Native Americans” that he choose to adopt… (aren’t “native Americans” the injuns?). There is also no indication that he knew Hebrew, or lived in a Jewish community, so maybe he was unaware of the original pronunciation. His name in German was Loeb not Levi, why he choose to use his Hebrew name Levi is another mystery.

  • Julie near Chicago

    As far as I am concerned, if you were born here you are by definition Native American. I grant you this is not Officially Approved PC, but let them eat thin cold broth and stale crusts. What it IS, is accurate.

    So I reckon I dishonored Germany, since Mr. Strauss was actually Native German. Will you please run over here and hold off P.M. Merkel’s officers from having me extradited for illegitimate expropriation of a Native German? And since when is “Löb” NOT a “distortion” of “Leh-vee”? Hey, if the Germans can distort, why can’t we?

    This gets us right back to the main issue, though. I believe that in the 19th century U.S., “Levi” (“knee-high”) was not all that uncommon a first name, just as there were Eliezers and Elijahs and Ezekiels and, of course, Abrahams and Noahs infesting the place in droves — Old-Testament names being popular at the time. Call it a “distortion” if you want. The town is still BaTAHvia, and the street is still DeVONNE, and that’s simply all there is to it. 😉

    Besides, do the Canadians really say “Lee-vay”-rhymes-with-“he may”? Because we don’t. 🙁

    Anyway, thanks for the correction on Mr. Strauss’s birthplace. I shall go forth and sin again, but not that particular sin. :>))

    . . .

    PS. Distortions … you mean like “Sean” for “John,” or Johann, or Ivan, or Evan, or Eben, or Yvonne, or …. ? I once thought up a list of over 20 variants of “John.” Didn’t take long.

    For instance, this, if correct (it must be correct, since it’s on the Internet), on “Evan”:



    There are many discrepancies on the meaning of the name Evan in Welsh and in Hebrew. In Welsh, it is said to mean “young warrior” or “God is good”. The meaning of “God is good” comes from the name John, from which Evan is said to have been derived. In Hebrew, the name Evan is said to mean “rock” or “God is gracious” It is also considered to be a variant of Eben, since the Hebrew letter for “b” and “v” are identical and pronunciation is interchanged.This would be congruent with the meaning “rock”, since “Eben” means “stone”. Again, due to the relation with the name John, it is often stated that the meaning of the name Evan is the same as the meaning of the name John. There are also many other meanings for the name Evan in other languages, where there are no discrepancies. They’re listed below. The name Evan is:

    Celtic, meaning “young warrior”
    French, meaning “yew tree”, which is a type of evergreen
    Gaelic, meaning “swift”
    Greek, meaning “good messenger”
    Irish, meaning “young fighter”
    Scottish, meaning “right handed”

    The name is derived from “lefan”, which is the Welsh form of John. The name John is derived from ancient Hebrew and means “God is gracious.” ….

  • RRS, as Tim pointed out, Russian has no articles at all, and I surmise that Ukrainian doesn’t have them either.

    Thanks Ed, that makes sense, if not logic.

  • Nick BTF! Gray

    If the Ukrainian is like the russian, then language wouldn’t have ‘the’, in any case! Names should not need the specific identifier, though the french do say ‘la France’, and not just ‘France’. Blame The French!!!

  • Andrew Duffin


    We call Roma Rome, Firenze Florence, Venezia Venice, Napoli Naples, and so on – nobody complains and neither should they.

    As far as I’m concerned we still have Delhi, Calcutta, and Bombay – the locals can call them whatever they wish, I won’t mind.

    I have even been known to go so far as referring to Bratislava as “Pressburg”, but I accept this is a somewhat eccentric view.

  • Snorri Godhi

    We call Roma Rome, Firenze Florence, Venezia Venice, Napoli Naples, and so on – nobody complains and neither should they.

    Perhaps nobody complains, but i do feel uncomfortable about it … as i feel uncomfortable about Cologne, Munich, “The” Hague, etc.

    BTW what about the Land of the Angles? why isn’t it called *the* England? the same logic can be applied to the Scotland, the Ireland, the Iceland, the Poland, the Denmark, the Norway, the Thailand, the Swaziland, the Afghanistan (and various other Stans) …

    See also The Bluffer’s Guide to Whisky for the distinction between Glenlivet and The Glenlivet.