06 February 2015

A modern day "parsley massacre"

I had not heard of the Parsley Massacre until I read about it in The Atlantic:
In October 1937, the president of the Dominican Republic, Rafael Trujillo, devised a simple way to identify the Haitian immigrants living along the border of his country. Dominican soldiers would hold up a sprig of parsley—perejil in Spanish—and ask people to identify it. Those who spoke Spanish would pronounce the word's central "r" with that language's characteristic trill; the Haitians, on the other hand, would bury the "r" sound in the throaty way of the French. To be on the receiving end of the parsley test would be to seal, either way, one's fate: The Spanish-speaking Dominicans were left to live, and the Haitians were slaughtered. It was a state-sponsored genocide that would be remembered, in one of history's greatest understatements, as the Parsley Massacre.
The modern-day equivalent is to sort out true intellectuals from fake ones by their knowledge (or lack thereof) of how certain names are pronounced.
Paul Klee (clay)
Michel Foucault (foo-coe)
Here are some of the other names:
Walter Benjamin
Paulo Coelho
John Maynard Keynes
Joan Miró
Anaïs Nin
Chuck Palahniuk
Many more at The Atlantic.  Brush up before that next cocktail party.  You can argue all you want that language is flexible and fluid, but the same principle doesn't apply to specific people's names.


  1. http://inogolo.com/ -- a fine resource for finding name pronunciations

  2. So, parsley was a shibboleth. Been done before.

  3. 13th century Sicily, similar story about the word for chick peas: ceci in modern Italian, ciciri in Sicilian dialect. See link: "The Uprising".

  4. Well, good luck on getting all the tones right in Mao Zedong. In comparison, Christiaan Huygens is a cinch ;)

  5. I've been way off on my Ayn Rand pronunciation....

    KaraBoo in Ohio

  6. Judges, Chapter 12 (NRSV): "Then the Gileadites took the fords of the Jordan against the Ephraimites. Whenever one of the fugitives of Ephraim said, “Let me go over,” the men of Gilead would say to him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” When he said, “No,” 6 they said to him, “Then say Shibboleth,” and he said, “Sibboleth,” for he could not pronounce it right. Then they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand of the Ephraimites fell at that time.

    see also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shibboleth


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