Letters: Sudan, Lord Elgin
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
It's time for your letters and plenty of you had something to say about my conversation with Major General Scott Gration. He's the U.S. special envoy to Sudan. Many of you were upset that Gration would not say specifically that there is an ongoing genocide in Darfur, even though yesterday, President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice all used the word genocide to describe the situation there.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Daniel Serrano(ph) of Short Hills, New Jersey, writes this: The way you allowed Major General Gration to evade a pointed question on genocide in Darfur was dreadful. His prevarication was laughable. And yet you failed to force him to answer the question. Simply: To state that he agreed with what the president had said, while patly refusing to state what the president had said, demonstrates that he believes nothing of the sort.
BLOCK: But, Jonathan Stang of East Haddam, New Jersey, had a different take. He writes this: hats off to you for being able to keep your composure and keep the interview going with the general. It must be so frustrating to get answers to questions that are so full of nothing.
NORRIS: And on a completely differently topic, this story raised a pressing question that we found difficult to resolve.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI: Roughly half the sculptures that once adorned the Parthenon were chiseled off by Lord Elgin two centuries ago.
NORRIS: That's the voice of NPR's Sylvia Poggioli, and the story is about Greece's efforts to convince Britain to return the Elgin or Elgin Marbles.
BLOCK: And that is our question. We said Elgin as you heard. Some of you wrote that the correct pronunciation is Elgin. Michele, I should say Robert Siegel, our co-host, is a firm believer in Elgin. I've always said Elgin, I don't know what you've said.
NORRIS: I don't - I…
BLOCK: All those many times you've had to say the word…
NORRIS: I don't…
BLOCK: …have a dog in this fight, so…
(Soundbite of laughter)
BLOCK: Well, we went to our library for help. And our long-serving librarian Kee Malesky has heard all this before, right Kee?
KEE MALESKY: Yes, I think I have.
BLOCK: Well, what's the answer, Elgin or Elgin?
MALESKY: Well, this is another example for the old adage that the U.S. and England are two countries divided by a common language. In the U.K., it is definitely Elgin - a hard G. But here in the U.S., we like soft G's and we usually do hear Elgin. And of course we have Elgin, Illinois, as well. I was an art major in college, I never heard anyone say Elgin.
But there's no doubt that Thomas Bruce, the 7th earl of Elgin, pronounced it that way and our normal rule is to let the person decide how his or her name should be pronounced. So, that would mean we ought to say Elgin, but on the other hand we try to use the pronunciations that sound familiar to the American ear. So, that would mean its okay to say Elgin. So, the real answer is probably to do what the British museum itself does, most often, which is…
BLOCK: What's that?
MALESKY: …call them Parthenon Marbles.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BLOCK: Nobody can debate that.
BLOCK: Kee Malesky, our reference librarian. And thanks to all of you for your letters. You can write to us at npr.org, click on Contact Us at the bottom of the page.
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