Myanmar or Burma? What’s in a name?

The US continues to call the country Burma, even while the Associated Press uses the name Myanmar. Why the hesitance? One theory is that the name change from Burma was a change of the nameplate so-to-speak; a linguistic sleight of hand since internally it means the same thing. The other is that it’s inconvenient to acknowledge the name that was changed by a group that isn’t playing by the rules.

Take this bland statement by the US Department of State:

The United States supports a peaceful, prosperous, and democratic Burma that respects the human rights of all its people. Burma remains a country in transition to democracy….”

From the US Bilateral Relations Fact Sheet. JANUARY 21, 2020

The UN, on the other hand calls a spade a spade:

Hundreds of civilians, including at least 44 children, have been killed in the crackdown across Myanmar since the military coup on 1 February.

On the other hand the US secretary of State said this:

“The Burmese military regime has ignored the will of the people of Burma to restore the country’s path toward democracy and has continued to commit lethal attacks against protesters in addition to random attacks on bystanders.”

OK, so extra points for using ‘lethal attacks,’ and ‘will of the people’ when referring to the country by its previous name.

What’s in a name? We don’t refer to “New Holland” when we talk of Australia, or even Bombay these days because Mumbai is the more accurate. Imagine if the United Kingdom refused use the word Mumbai, because the Shiv Sena party, in 1995 changed the name as a thumb in the eye to colonialism.

The US policy on Myanmar is so convoluted that it is no wonder the rest of the world thinks our geography sucks. And this is not new. Hillary Clinton, as secretary of State practically refused to say ‘Burma’ calling the country by other dodgy nouns. Here’s the latest doublespeak from the new White House as quoted on VOA:

“Our official policy is that we say ‘Burma’ but use ‘Myanmar’ as a courtesy in certain communications,” Jen Psaki, the White House spokesperson, said when asked to address the issue during a press conference this week.”

Meaning they apparently like to be courteous, and politically correct while being out of step with reality. So she goes on:

“So, for example, the embassy website refers to Burma — Myanmar because they are by definition dealing with officials and the public. The State Department website uses ‘Burma (Myanmar)’ in some places and ‘Burma’ in others.”

Oh, I get it. Using curly brackets and an m-dash really clarifies matters.

Photo: Nazly Ahmed

While you’re doing that Ms. Psaki, why not rename Sri Lanka as “Ceylon-Sri Lanka” on your official site (this will make the CEYLON Tourist Board thrilled; the CEYLON Tea exporters might do a high-five outside your embassy in Colombo.) You could even call the country “Sri Lanka (Ceylon)-(Serendib)” in other places because it makes the hoi polloi feel like you know your history.

You’re welcome!

Quotes of the week 09/29/07

“The Internet has so much more potential than that, if only we free ourselves from the idea that it is just another medium for messages, like television, radio and print.”

Tim Manners, in Fast Company. “Socialized Media:” On the problem of marketers attempting to create a medium out of every conceivable space.

“By digitising the whole collection, we give access to the books without the filter of later judgments, whether based on taste or on the economics of printing and publishing”

Dr. Jensen of the British Library, on the news that they will digitise100,000 books from the 19th Century, and one million pages of 18th Century newspapers. These will be text searchable.

“Increasingly social networks are becoming a theater of operations for PR. So we need ways to track our interactions over time.”

Steve Rubel, on using a Gmail account as a social media hub.

“You’ve got people on cell phones, their Blackberries, and iPods while driving. Those are all distractions. Hopefully, when they see a sign they’re not expecting, it might make them stop.”

Mayor of Oak Lawn, Illinois, on putting up double-octagonal stop signs, with the bottom one displaying messages such as “Stop…and smell the roses.”

“There is no better way to keep embarrassing secrets under wraps than to chill those who expose them.”

Editorial in Arizona Republic on the need for AZ Senator Jon Kyl to support the Schumer-Specter bill that going before the US Senate that could protect journalists.

“They don’t want the world to see what is going on there.”

White House spokesman, Scott Stanzel, commenting on Myanmar cutting off Internet access, and hence, news filtering out of the country.

“It’s not a Mona Lisa painting, it’s a car”

US District Court judge, Richard Berman on a ruling that requires New York City cab drivers to install GPS and credit card reader technology in the vehicles. Drivers protested that it would amount to giving away trade secrets.