Last week's exciting political news included this gem: Something called U.S. English, Inc., gave an award to Sixth District Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann for her efforts to make English the official language of the United States.
The name of the award given to Frau Bachmann was "A for English," which makes you wonder whether these English promoters are familiar with zee English alphabet. Where I come from, A is for Apple, not English.
(Rep. John Kline, a Second District Republican and, like Bachmann, a cosponsor of a bill in Congress called the English Language Unity Act (we have ways of making you speak English), also received an "A." Meanwhile, representatives Betty McCollum, Keith Ellison, Tim Walz and Jim Oberstar all got F's. I will go out on a limb here and guess that in the crazy world of English, Inc., "F" stands for "Democrat.")
But I come from Minnesota, which used to have a long tradition of living civilly with the facts of life, including the fact that our people have come from many foreign countries and have spoken many different languages during eras of change and assimilation. Was it annoying at times to have our streets and marketplaces crowded with people speaking Swedish and German and Norwegian? Probably.
Just like it was annoying to the Dakota and Ojibwe tribes when French and English speakers arrived, only to be followed by more gibberish-speaking groups. The Dakota couldn't make heads or tails out of German, and called Germans "bad-talkers." But eventually everyone made the best of the situation, and the Legislature even adjusted by having occasional caucuses where Norwegian speakers gathered in one corner to figure out what they thought of a particular bill and the Germans parleyed (a derivation of the French parler, "to speak") in another corner, and so on. Sadly, this practice has died out, as not even people who speak common sense are seen together in the Capitol anymore.
A good illustration of that absence comes in the form of the increasingly belligerent bills that have been introduced in recent years that, disregarding the fact that thousands of Minnesotans are descended from tribes that were here long before the first person was ever heard in these parts to say, "Put it in my lingo, pal," would declare that English is the common language of the state and make it official.
Speaking of belligerent bills, the sponsor of that bill, S.F. 577, is a fellow from Scandinavian-saturated Alexandria named Bill Ingebrigtsen, a surname that is almost impossible to pronounce or spell, and ought to be cleaned up with the removal of a consonant or two if we are all going to speak the Queen's English.
But we ain't, is we?
That's the thing you have to keep in mind about all this English-only foolishness: It isn't meant to be taken seriously. It is just fodder for fools. Or, you might say in German, it's just emmer for the cows. Emmer, near as I can determine, means some kind of cattle feed in German, and also denotes the surname of the Republican candidate for governor of Minnesota, Tom Emmer, who is one of the biggest promoters of English-only efforts in the state. He deserves an "A" for pandering.
Emmer, a state representative who has sponsored bills to make English the official state language in the past (au revoir, L'etoile du Nord!), still supports such efforts. In fact, one of the low points of his Angry Man campaign was his endorsement last summer of the decision by Lino Lakes officials to prohibit spending public money translating documents into any language other than God's preferred language. That was a low-brow move. Lino Lakes has never paid for such translation, but was prodded to take its stand by citizens who, among other things, said they were sick and tired of sitting in a restaurant listening to people at other tables speak to their children in a different language.
Emmer, of course, has had to be careful he doesn't get outflanked on the meanness front by Republicans such as Marty Seifert, his rival for the GOP endorsement last spring. Seifert once publicly castigated the principal of a high school for allowing the Pledge of Allegiance to be said in Spanish. The Spanish version -- Spanish was being studied by the students -- was followed by the pledge in English. But subtleties are lost on a crowd that doesn't trust the world's predominant language to be its own best argument.
That's the bottom line: English doesn't need help. Even the "A for English" people know that. The website for U.S. English, Inc. admits that those annoying people who speak their native tongues (even when in a Lino Lakes restaurant!) will continue to do so if English is made the official language. "So what's the fuss all about?" it asks.
Nick Coleman is at email@example.com.