The Greatest Comment in the World

“Yeah, nice picture. When I was a kid, moving with my family back from Vancouver, we took the train, and we booked passage from Vancouver to Westmount — not Montreal (Windsor Station, which was the next stop). That was 1971.

I more or less like your blog. But I will stop visiting if you don’t stop your reprehensible habit of putting an accent on the first E of Montreal.

It’s incomprehensible. Why would you do that? That letter (the e with an accent, which has its own name in French and is not considered the same as a regular E — they pronounce “e” euh; and “e-with-the-accent-aigu” eh.

Stop and go back and delete the accents. It’s like we don’t belong in Montreal. You are on the wrong side with this evil habit of yours.”


This comment is attributed to a Snead Nesbitt.

I’ve never had a comment like this. Judge for yourselves.

Where to begin?

Montréal is a French name, and according to English usage rules, it’s appropriate to use the accent.

And I’m half English and half French, so I feel pretty comfortable expressing myself in both languages. You know, the two official languages of Canada.

I like how I’m both incomprehensible and reprehensible. Someone was using a thesaurus no doubt.

And Windsor Station is in Montréal, not Westmount.

12 thoughts on “The Greatest Comment in the World”

  1. Turin Bombay Beijing Belgrade Kiev… English alters names. That’s just the way it is.
    It is the language that finds other languages and beats them up in dark alleys at might.

    Given the continual nonsensical attacks on the English language in Quebec from those who want to erase the past few centuries of history, it is not surprising that you will encounter people who say ENOUGH of your hatred. My language is mine, stop treating it like cancer!

    Your latest column is proof.

  2. Right on!

    I couldn’t agree more.

    It’s funny because if you ever get a chance to take a look at the real demographic numbers, the statistics etc, you realize that French is far from threatened in Québec, but in an important way, neither is English. Both languages continue to co-exist very peacefully, even to the point of linguistic integration which itself is largely thanks to immigration and the immigrant tendency to learn both anyways (because it’s dumb not to). Thus, Montréal becomes a city of multi-lingualism, inter-culturalism, and it benefits us all immensely.

    The complaining drives me nuts – it’s so antiquated and backwards. It’s almost like people don’t realize the exceptional gift we have, and that continued integration will only benefit our city in an increasingly globalized future. So much of the rhetoric surrounding the linguistic and cultural ‘battles’ as they relate to the Québecois identity is steeped in 19th-century nationalist concepts of race. It’s sickening. You’d think we would have progressed past that by now.

    I see Montréal as a kind of laboratory, and I think it’s in our best interest to establish a set of ‘best-practises’ solutions to inter-cultural bickering. Amazingly, we’re still here, and if you were to tune out the politicians and the pundits, you’d probably forget there was ever a spat to begin with. So isn’t it time to figure out what we’re doing right, and how we act as individuals within a society, rather than continue this idiotic conversation about ‘racial extinction’?

  3. That and I’m fairly certain that in proper English language usage rules, it’s appropriate to write a French place name as it is written in French. I’ll have to look it up I suppose.

  4. My perspective is this:

    Montréal is predominantly French and the word sounds fundamentally different in English. I prefer the French pronunciation, though I regularly use it’s English pronunciation in conversation when speaking to Anglophones. I think it’s economically and socio-politically beneficial to emphasize our city’s generally Francophone nature. After all, we’re the second-largest French speaking city in the entire world, and the seat of North American Francophone culture. The more we can distinguish ourselves from the North American standard, the better. We’re different and we deserve the distinction. A key element of the distinction is that we’re primarily French, so let’s be smart and market ourselves accordingly. As far as this continent is concerned, we’re pretty exotic.

  5. 1000 points for using the term ‘going full retard’

    I’m both English and French, and I’m immensely proud to be part of this new, integrated cultural group. I find it fascinating how both languages work together, and what they provide each other. Where others see the destruction of language as an element of identity, I see fusion and unity, cohesion and integration. As our world becomes smaller, this is clearly the way of the future. French and English both have places in our society. English is a dominant language of work, but there can be no question French is the local language of high-culture, politics, academia, the intelligentsia. French is required if you want to climb the social ladder, and the Anglo-Québecois have, for the most part, adapted, teaching their children to speak both as best as possible. You can’t imagine how glad I am that this is the manner in which I was raised. It’s true of many of the people I grew up with in the West Island. What I find curious is that the Anglo-Québecois aren’t preaching language conversion, institutions within the government and society of Québec seem to be perennially interested in actively converting people to the French language. If it wasn’t presented with such overt hostility (as in, ‘our language is threatened so we’re taking your rights away’), the status and use of French in Montréal could be guaranteed through far-more sympathetic means. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the SSJB and OQLF would be far more successful in promoting the French language if they actually worked towards promoting its use, instead of penalizing those who don’t.

    All that said, I’ll write however which way I goddam well please, and I agree with you completely, mountains out of molehills.

  6. How is adding an “e accent aigu” denying the bilingual history of the city?

    Forbidding the use of the accent seems more like a denial of the enormous French influence. Both seem acceptable to me. Why can’t people just use what they want?

    Hell, if adding the accent is ignoring the bilingual history of Montréal why don’t we just go full retard and start saying we’re from Royalmount. Previously known as Mary-town.

    Jeez, people in this province get worked up over the smallest things.

  7. I agree with Kevin completely. Cities often have different spellings in different languages. It seems only in English is London spelled London (Londres in French, Spanish, Italian).

    In English, it’s Montreal, in French Montréal. Let’s forget the arguments about Montreal’s great history in both languages, and stick to language norms and use the correct spelling for the language being written.

    Another point, the person you’ve corrected about Windsor Station’s location was not referring to Windsor Station being Westmount, but to Westmount Station, in Westmount, formally operated by the CPR.

  8. I didn’t even notice there was an accent on E and frankly I don’t understand why the way somebody writes ” Montreal ” matters to other people. But maybe this is because I’m allophone in this city. I personally prefer more flexibility about people’s taste and liking. ” Montreal ” or ” Montréal “, it’s the same cosmopolitan city we live in, we love and complain about.
    One more thing. Being an allophone immigrant, I always get annoyed by this kind of French-English conflict. I think we ( ie: all Montrealers ) can afford to be more generous each other, especially this level of issue.

  9. I don’t think that comparison holds. Anglophones pronounce Paris differently because the proper pronunciation contains sounds that are difficult for them to produce. Anyone can put an accent over an e. If anything, it’s an acknowledgment that Montréal is a French name, and that we anglophones ought not to misspell it anymore.

  10. Montreal in English, Montréal in French.

    Writing Montréal in an English document is a recent development. It can be seen as yet another attempt to deny this city’s bilingual history.
    Let me put it another way: do you visit Paris or Pa-ree?

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