Thursday, November 01, 2012


Beijing or Peking?

Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (New York: Free Press, 2009), p. 184 (footnote):
Predictably, the Peking fossil is now sometimes called Beijing Man. Why, since we are talking English rather than Chinese, do we go along with 'Beijing' at all, when referring to China's capital? There's a rather charming programme on British television called Grumpy Old Men, which is a genially edited collection of grouses and grizzles of this kind. If I were on it, I would say something like the following. We don't dab on a splash of Eau de Köln to drown out the smell of Mumbai Duck, or go waltzing to the strains of 'The Blue Dunaj' or 'Tales from the Wien Woods'. We don't compare Neville Chamberlain, the Man of München, to Napoleon's retreat from Moskva. Nor yet (though give it time) do we take our snuffling little pet Beij for walkies. What's wrong with Peking, when it's the English language we're speaking? I was delighted recently to meet a member of the British diplomatic corps, fluent in Mandarin, who had played a leading role in our embassy in what he insisted on calling Peking.

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