America's Most Critical Journal (since 1999)
China Bans the Word “Great”; Others Follow Suit
By Elaine Kendall
11 February 2017
On the 25th of January, 2017, Chinese president Xi Jinping banned great from all new schoolbooks, kindergarten to university levels. Beginning on January 28th, the start of the Chinese New Year, students in classes where English is taught will be requested not to use that word to describe anything at all. The Wondrous Wall will be the new official name for China’s unique national treasure. Students will be given one month to drop great from their vocabularies. On February 28th, they will be fined one yuan for using the term. “If a student continues to employ that adjective, the fine will be doubled to two yuan. Primary students may call our wall cool, humongous, awesome or whatever term they choose from the approved school list. Once having entered institutions of higher learning, we expect them to drop those childish American descriptions, and select Wondrous as their adult adjective.”
Tourist companies, travel agents, guides and hotels will be given six weeks from day 1 of The Year of the Rooster to reprint their brochures and business cards, eliminating the disgraced word. “From that date forward, we will refer to our celebrated wall as The Wondrous Wall, The Earth Dragon, or The Purple Frontier; the last two terms historically accurate designations. Our Wondrous Wall took 1800 years to complete, making the notion of copying it idiotic. The requested actions by our 1 billion, 357 thousand citizens will cause the American president to lose face internationally and catastrophically. By eliminating his one and only adjective, he will have nothing to say.”
All fines will be collected in baskets to be emptied each week and delivered promptly to China’s Refugee Fund. Later in his speech, President Xi Jinping issued a special welcome call to the beautiful seňoritas of Mexico and Central America. “As all China knows, the country is experiencing a shortage of brides for our young men, an unforeseen result of the one child law, now repealed.”
Egypt lost no time in following China, declaring that the Sphinx of Gaza would no longer be modified by a word they agree should be forbidden by English-speaking Egyptians. That magnificent monument will be simply The Sphinx, and people may call her colossal, stupendous, immense, or whatever they choose from a dual language dictionary. Prime Minister Sherif Ismail was in complete agreement, stating that the unmentionable word would only aggravate the already forlorn hopes for peace in the Middle East. Further measures are being considered, though the Chinese plan will probably be adopted. President Abdel-Fattah-el-Sisi thought it excellent. The fine for students using the illegal adjective will be 5 piastres for the first offence, and 100 Egyptian pounds for non-compliant hotels.
Chancellor Angela Merkel responded immediately and favorably to the idea of making great a taboo word in Germany, a country where English is compulsory in primary schools. Chancellor Merkel added that the German word gross, (great in English) has been slang for disgusting for at least a decade. Even more concerned about affairs of state than usual, the Chancellor promised to declare the term verboten soon as possible. “I know the proposal will be extremely popular in Germany. We are eager to cooperate and understand why it is necessary.” As soon as her statement appeared on TV, an English professor at Heidelberg announced that the original meaning for great, was big, coarse, and stout. It can also indicate contempt for the subject of the sentence. “Here, we need not have fines,” he said. “People will happily reject the term; our refugees most eagerly of all.”
Response to the request was generally enthusiastic in the UK, though there were some justifiable requests for exceptions. The bell in the South West tower of St. Paul’s Cathedral has been known as Great Paul since the 17th century, and many Tories prefer to keep that name. A few Liberal members of Parliament agree. However, when they were reminded that The Great Pox was another name for syphilis, they agreed the bell might well come to be known as Huge Paul, given time enough. Even the Archbishop of Canterbury was in accord with the change. “We must keep up with our century,” he said. “Great is not a synonym for good.”
Australia has just announced that The Great Barrier Reef will now be The Prodigious Barrier Reef and the Great Victoria Desert has been renamed Queen Victoria Desert.
Mexico has been bleeping great from newscasts since August 2016, and President Enrique Peňa-Nieto has adopted former President Vicente Fox’s gerund for private conversations. “No problem,” Peňa-Nieto said. “Our newspapers and TV stations have adopted the bleep when reporting American news, in print and online: El Debate, Sopitos,com, El Universal, Unavision TV, Televisa TV, and others. Spanish has many synonyms.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada promptly agreed to alter the names of English city names using the abrasive adjective, but admitted there was little he could do with French place-names, many of which are tributes to saints. He pledged to do more as soon as the Keystone Pipeline matter was settled.
Abandoning great in the United States has been unanimously well received on the East and West Coasts, where there have been tens of thousands marching to demand that the offensive word be permanently removed from our dictionaries. Protestors find it particularly revolting when repeated twice or more by its speaker. Residents of the Great Plains states have been slower to respond, even though Vast Plains is an attractive alternative, and could eventually catch on in Wisconsin and Michigan.
Several options for suitable adjectives have been offered to the Salt Lake City Council for Great Salt Lake. Four possibilities have been mentioned; Sea Salt Lake, Fleur de Sal Lake, Rock Salt Lake, and Kosher Salt Lake were a few of the suggestions. All are being considered, some more favorably than others. Great Falls, Montana, has refused any offering, no matter how flattering. Great Barrington, Massachusetts doesn’t mind being Grand Barrington; Great South Bay is content with Blue South Bay, and Great Neck Long Island is searching for an entirely different name. If there is a spare Hampton, they’ll settle for that.
The organizers of GMG (Great Must Go) are expecting once great American cities, towns, landmarks and national parks to fall in line by the end of next week. Now more than ever, Americans use that ruined adjective to describe disasters of all sorts; floods, fires, tornados, and tragedies, currently employing it mainly in its derogatory sense, as a great fool, a great mess, a great error.
Mayors and city managers across the country are asking citizens to sign their city’s upcoming petition. Tax increases will not be required to remove the dreaded word from town names.
A journalist and playwright, Elaine’s books of American cultural history were published by Little, Brown, Putnam and Capra; her plays by Samuel French, Smith & Kraus and Art Age. Musical plays are An American Cantata; The Would-be Diva; Isadora! and COLE and WILL: Together Again! Non-musical dramas are The Chameleon; Two Margarets; The Trial of Mata Hari and The Nominee. The “I” Word; Gun Show Follies and Secrets of the Showroom are short comedies. She has written for many national magazines; The New York Times and the LA Times. Current articles appear monthly in the aptly-named online journal The Satirist.