Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Is gurdwara an English word yet?

My short story "The Maulana Azad Memorial Lamppost of Panipatnam" was recently accepted for publication and I recently got the copy edited manuscript to look over.

In my original manuscript, I had italicized India-related terms only when the characters of the story were self-consciously explaining them to non-Indian characters while leaving India-related terms unitalicized when two Indian characters talked with each other, or when Indian characters talked quickly without bothering to explain themselves.

But the publisher's style guide, understandably, doesn't have such an elaborate set of rules for when to italicize words. Their rule is that if a word is foreign, it should be italicized the first time it appears. Which is, admittedly, a much simpler standard to watch for.

But it sort of makes me curious: how do we know when a word counts as foreign and when it becomes English? Obviously we don't feel the need to point out that pork has French origins every time the term appears in print. And when characters are clumsy, no one calls them klutzes in case you don't know any Yiddish.

But when did a mosque become a mosque? And when will gurdwara become just plain old gurdwara?

How does an imported word get naturalized into English? 


  1. An interesting question, because we don't have anything like the Academie Francais that decides what does and doesn't make it into the French dictionaries. Years before your birth, when your mother and I were playing Scrabble, a friend who helped her father edit dictionaries would object to a "word" another friend would put down on the board. His reply was always, "our language is constantly evolving, and this word just evolved."

    I must say, the title of your story is intriguing.

    Auntie Sheila

  2. The rule is fairly simple: if I've known for years what the word means and I didn't learn it in a foreign language class, it's English. Otherwise, it's foreign.

    Sorry, but gurdwara isn't English yet. Check with me in a few years.

    1. :) Very nice. In England, the standard is probably whether the Queen has known the word for years. But being in America, I'm good with following Eric James Stone's English.


      I guess in this case my perspective is that the word belongs to the characters' English and therefore doesn't need italicizing, while the editor's perspective is that the word doesn't belong in the average reader's English and therefore does need italicizing.

      I know! Next time I'll write a dialogue between the Queen and Eric James Stone. That way, my rule and the formal rule will be one and the same.


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