TODAY is the seventh of the seventh of the seventh (07/07/07) and as I said a month ago, something was bound to happen.
Well, it has. There has been a terrorist attack on Australian and American military forces, right here in Townsville.
And I’m it.
I’m not the most dangerous terrorist in the world and my target is not civilians, or iconic buildings or even soldiers, sailors or airmen.
In this case the idiots who are mismanaging our language.
Have you ever heard of Talisman Saber? Well, maybe… it’s the name of a joint military exercise between American and Australian military forces. It’s just finished, and Townsville was one of the principal theatres of pretend-war for the exercise.
But what do you learn from the title – Talisman Saber…?
Talisman, of course, is defined in Australian dictionaries as: “a small object believed to protect the wearer from evil influences.”
But a saber?
Sorry, don’t understand. There are no sabers in Australia. They’re all sabres. And a sabre is a particular kind of sword, probably very handy for cutting the hands off people who write ‘saber’.
‘Saber’ is how the Americans spell it. That’s all right. They can spell it anyway they like in America… but in Australia, in a joint exercise with our defence forces, in our city, why couldn’t they have the common courtesy to spell it our way?
I blame John Howard. He probably put a memo out saying we had to let the Americans have their own way in everything. We’ll be buying gas from gas stations next; the turn-ups on our trousers will be cuffs; our trousers will be pants and our pants will be shorts.
We probably don’t even have a Defence Force anymore. Thanks to the yanks it’s probably already a Defense Force.
But there are subtle differences between Defence (a noun) and Defense (a verb) that are — of course — lost on Americans whose language is essentially a utilitarian device (devise?) for killing meaning.
I mean, what do they have that compares with colourful Aussie expressions like… ‘flat out like a lizard drinking’? or ‘charge like a wounded bull’?
They don’t. They have tried to apply the laws of commonsense to language (a pity they don’t apply some to their foreign policy) but language isn’t about commonsense. It’s about ownership. And it’s our.
At least, if you’re in Australia it’s ours. It’s not the English language in Townsville… it’s the Australian language. I was introduced to the differences as an imported British journo 18 years ago when I wrote a story about a honeymoon couple who found a valuable paintings – while they were ‘rooting around’ in the attic of their new home.
Luckily, they didn’t sue.
It worse in America. Fans in America root for their team… I don’t think this means there’s a gang-bang going on.
But the thing that has upset me most is that it’s just not polite. They came here to play their war games and it would have been well-mannered to call them Talisman Sabre. Not only would it have been well-mannered, but everyone (everyone in Australia, anyway) would have known what it meant.