The siege of Chicken Kiev
Sorry, I mean 'Chicken Keeeeev'
(This article appears in this month’s edition of Bournbrook)
SOME sentences are hard to write without sounding like an out-of-touch, pretentious twerp. One such sentence will now follow.
Once, I was on an overnight train going through the Burmese countryside. As we rolled by in the searing heat, forever subjected to the stench from our sub-medieval toilet facilities, I was castigated by an ageing Dutch hippy. She was travelling through the South East Asian country with her tie-dye t-shirt on and her prayer stool in tow, on, as she claimed, some kind of Buddhist journey. Presumably she was not to spend time with the often ferociously violent monks of the spicier regions of Burma, but instead was to travel around and fill the spiritual void lurking within with partially understood mysticisms of the Orient.
More power to her. However, before long she was ruining my vibes, my chakra, my zen, as she went into full politically correct mode, as befitting any right-thinking Eurocitizen of the 21st century. Talking about the trip me and my friend were on, I unfailingly used the now verboten placenames of yesteryear: Rangoon (d’uh, it’s Yangon), Burma (gosh, it’s Myanmar!) and Pagan (now transformed into Bagan). ‘The British Empire is long dead, you know, you should use the new names,’ this child of the nation which gave us the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie said, wagging her karmic finger.
As an instinctive conservative, I am drawn towards the old and the established. ‘Burma’ to me conjures romantic visions of the Irrawaddy – the stinking heat and scorching smells conveniently forgotten – whereas ‘Myanmar’ conjures visions of coup d’etats and bouts of food poisoning; the latter association caused by a dodgy Burmese biscuit whose violent aftereffects rendered me out of action for days on end.
The issue of place names rears its boring head with increasing frequency. As a civilisation that cannot focus on any big issues, the insignificant rapidly takes centre stage. Take, for example, Kiev/Kyiv. Are you retrograde to still write, let alone pronounce, ‘Kiev’? I must admit I am in this now-shrinking minority, which was until half an hour ago, an uncontested majority.
Even the humble chicken Kiev must be renamed. A photo doing the rounds shows the garlicky poultry delight – still, shamefully, packaged as ‘chicken Kiev’ – affixed with a sticker claiming that the Co-Op ‘stand[s] with Ukraine’ and that there is a ‘name change coming soon’. I am sure the Ukrainians are overjoyed with this decision: we may not be able to provide them with all the heavy guns, tanks or fighters that they want, but we can rename our ready-to-cook oven meals. Slava Ukraini!
This is all because ‘Kyiv’ is the Ukrainian spelling of Kiev, sorry, I mean Kyiv. If you want to get real browny points, you must butcher the pronunciation completely (‘Keev’, but drawing out the ‘ee’ for at least a couple of seconds), ignoring the inconvenient combination of vowels in the Ukrainian Київ (Kee-yiv). But what is accuracy when the objective is to show one’s instantly conjured solidarity?
It’s all pick and choose, and often utterly pointless. Take ‘Eswatini’. To most people this still is ‘Swaziland’. And what does ‘Eswatini’ mean? ‘Land of the Swazis’. Or take the peculiar lack of agreement about with it’s ‘Beijing’ or ‘Peking’. Of course those ruthless Ruskis still say ‘Peking’. But then again, so do the hopelessly damp Frenchies and Krauts. Nevertheless, anyone in the UK referring to ‘Peking’ would no doubt be accused of all kinds of sins, having not fully subscribed to the communist-dictatorship-endorsed naming convention.
Moreover, we don’t say ‘Deutschland’ nor do we say ‘Roma’. We don’t get in a tizz when someone says ‘Finland’ instead of ‘Suomi’. How about trying ‘Magyarország’ out for size? What’s more, the Germans have their own placenames for most of eastern Europe which you won’t find any on English-language maps. You today look in vain for Reval (Tallinn), Breslau (Wroclaw) or Hermannstadt (Sibiu) on a map. Nobody cares, however, because these are so few virtue signalling juices within these fruits of wokeness.
What makes this all the more entertaining is that the truly good among us are already busy at work destroying place names closer to home. Without a doubt, the people who have given themselves the task of reviewing the probity of London’s streets and landmarks all fall over themselves to say ‘Keeeev’, not ‘Kiev’.
This is the great benefit of forever unthinkingly being carried away by whichever tidal wave of moral panic happens to be crashing over us in any given week. None of it needs to fit together and ‘joined-up thinking’ is strictly discouraged. And besides, by the time someone has gone to the effort to point its disjointedness, everyone has already moved a mile down the road, hitched as they are to the next trivial bandwagon.
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