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Am I a geek?

Some would say yes, others would say no. The yes-sayers are members of my family and some of my friends who find my rather intimate relationship with my laptop and my phone unnerving and unnatural. The no-sayers would be fellow bloggers and tweeters who routinely build own websites and say things about XHTML that I don’t understand…

When I saw Geek Girl Meet-Up (link in Danish) announced on Twitter I was attracted to it, but also very much in doubt as to whether I belong there or not. I still am, to be honest, although I am now officially a participant. I have been asked by a true geek (and this, in my book, is VERY positive), my friend Lisa (link in Danish), to describe what geeky stuff I can contribute with. Hm.

I just don’t think I’m geeky enough to contribute in a setting like that. At least not with traditionally geeky stuff. But there’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. And that is Danish/international companies’ use of English as corporate language.

I like it. I like it if we can emerge from our self-sufficient little island and become part of the world out there – being colleagues at work with people from all over the world and let ourselves be enriched. And English is the obvious choice in our part of the world, where the German, French and Spanish we learn at school are far from sufficient to get us through much more than ordering a meal at a restaurant.

As you all know, I love the English language in all its richness and complexity. I even make a living, more or less, from my love of this language. I love Danish too and would probably love every language I learned well enough. When I read a really beautiful sentence I go all soft and “aahhh”. Guess that’s pretty geeky in a way…

I don’t claim to speak or write it perfectly – don’t think I ever will. But I feel much better about this after my years in England, where I found that most English people don’t either…

What I’m trying to get to is this: Corporate-Speak is NOT English. The language non-English people speak amongst themselves is of course English. It’s just not, well, you know, English. (And it’s not American either). Each time you enter a big international company or go to a conference and listen to people speak, you hear a new, slightly different, version of Corporate-Speak. Then, when you start working with them on their texts, you get into the strangest discussions about language. Like, can we use “difficult” words when not everybody understands them? My claim is, yes, absolutely. You cannot and should not lower the level to some sort of 10.000-words lingo that everybody understands. That would be terrible. We would never do that if we wrote ads, articles, etc. in our own language!

The reverse is also a problem. A kind of imagined “over-familiarity” with the English language. We’ve discussed this on Twitter lately and all the English/American and bi-lingual totally agree. When Danes speak English, they adapt a tone that’s even more blunt than the “original” Danish. Read an article (in Danish) about that here. The f… word, which I could never write, is overused in Denmark, because Danes don’t grasp just how nasty a word it actually is. The fact that it can be heard on television a lot (although in the UK and US it’s usually beeped out) and that rap-artists believe it’s the most common word in the English language, does NOT make it acceptable in book titles, conference blurbs and adverts. It just doesn’t. Some people will think that I’m just an old hag who disapproves of swearing and “modernity”. But it is not so. I wish I was less prone to swearing, but I do swear more than I like to admit. I just don’t say the f… word, unless… There should be a wide gap between what you write in the public sphere and what you say when you stub your toe on the table-leg.

So, what I am is a language-geek. I don’t want to be a custodian, watching over a language spoken in bygone times, but I want us to maintain a rich and easily understandable language, be it Danish or English or any other. Easily understandable in the sense that sentences are complete, punctuated in such a way that they make sense when you read them, and in the sense that “difficult” words are used where they are necessary and not to show off.

4 tanker om “Am I a geek?”

  1. Hi Nene – I think you have some very valid points here. Having a child who just started preschool and who comes home cursing (in danish and english) is somewhat of a mystery to me, and I have started to watch what I speak. I have always written my blog in english (since I began blogging in 2005) because the purpose was to connect to people out there who had met me somewhere in the world. My publications (even e-books) has errors. People are correcting me on twitter. I know that a lot of people doesn’t read my blog because it’s not perfect in it’s english language, I even make up words myself. It’s probably not professional, but I love to do it. I probably should proofread more, but Im just spontanious like that. To have to proofread what i publish more than once, simply kills me. it’s just not my thing.

    I’ll leave you with a gem of my daughters she said the other day: in danish a common way to curse is to say “for satan”. So she was complaining about something and she said “mom f*** satan” – instead of ” mom for satan”. I told her that it was incorrect, that it was called “for satan” and it was something we certainly didn’t use in our family. It cracked me up though =)

  2. I don’t think you need to defend your blog. It’s your blog and you don’t claim to be anything other than you. I think it’s different with (big) businesses and corporations. Particularly those who truly believe that their writing is English. Real English.

    After some years in the UK, my son is shocked over the amount of swearing he hears everywhere here – in school, on television. We really should watch our language…

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  4. Hi Nene. I am so sorry I didn’t meet you at the Geek Girl meetup (or maybe I did?) I wish we had spoken about language, in any case. I can so relate to your thoughts on Danes’ use of the English language. I have a hard time convincing my kids that the -English- curse words they are so accustomed to hearing among their peers aren’t acceptable and okay to use in an everyday matter-of-fact way. I am neither a Danish nor an English native speaker, a language orphan of sorts, so I have really started to think about language and it’s connection to identity since I permanently moved to Denmark. You can read some of my thougts here: http://bit.ly/cpJEAd
    Looking forward to reading you again.
    PS: I also like you Librarything.

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