Over at Britannica Blog, Gregory McNamee is making fun of Arizona.
A little while back—you may have seen the pictures—Phoenix was hit with a couple of huge dust storms. Amazing videos. The meteorologists called them haboobs, an Arabic word for that kind of dust storm sweeping off a desert. Many good people objected to that word. How would our troops feel, one wrote in a letter to the newspaper, knowing that we were using Arabic words? Why can’t we use English? Another asked.
So Gregory McNamee has a little sport with Arizona, “the state’s sole growth industry, namely xenophobia,” and “some of the writers’ seeming unfamiliarity with English in general.” It reminds me a little of those inquiries by H.L. Mencken into which was the worst state of the Union, the least educated, the cultivated, the most barbarous. (I recall that he settled on Mississippi, but that may have been a provisional judgment.)
Of course, Arizonans’ lack of understanding of the promiscuity of English doesn’t distinguish them much. But there’s more than ignorance at work here. We didn’t use to get shirty, like the Brits, over borrowings in the language. There’s suspicion here, and there’s fear, the products of an unsettled time.
We have become a fretful people. We worry about our jobs and provision for our old age, and with good reason. But we also worry about Muslims and Mexicans. We are suspicious of science, so we listen to cranks and airhead celebrities and their crackpot warnings against vaccination. We have elected a Congress that leaves the nations of the world goggling in disbelief at its incapacity to pass a measure to guarantee that we will pay our bills.
I begin to worry that if we do not, as a people, begin to get a grip, we will face a storm worse than any haboob.