The Czechoslovak Review/Volume 3/Proper Spelling of "Czechoslovak"

From the Slovak original Kolumbia, published in 1894.

Proper Spelling of “Czechoslovak”

The article by Mr. Nigrin in the last issue of the Czecho-Slovak Review has called forth a good deal of comment, some of it favorable to Mr. Nigrin’s proposal of the spelling “Cheh”, some adverse, and still other writers suggesting new ways of spelling.

Dr. F. J. Kalal says: “Away with Bohemians and let us adopt “Cheh” or the best equivalent of “Čech”. But why not also turn out Prague which is the French spelling of the German word and use the real name Praha, as well as many other Germanized names of Bohemian cities, like Pilsen instead of Plzeň, Turnau instead of Turnov and hundreds of others. Now is the time.”

Mr. A. A. Rumreich favors the same spelling in English as in the native tongue. “My view is decidedly against the name Bohemian. The only term that is adaptable and correct is “Čech”, and none other. It is a sore spot to my eyes to see Czech. It would be the same with Tcheque, Tsech or any other substitution for the only proper spelling—Čech. To change the original orthography so as to indicate the proper sound in English does not really help much. For the letters “ch” are pronounced by Americans as our č in the word church, as k in the word choir or chemical, or š in the word chamois or chivalry. How is the average American to know how the letters “ch” in the word “Cheh” are to be pronounced? In my opinion it is simply impossible to indicate to English speaking people by any known characters the proper sound of the word Čech. It has to be heard to be pronounced right. Who did start the use of the name Čecho-Slovak? Those gallant and chivalrous boys in Siberia. Can we suppose that they would have it any other way than Č-e-c-h-o—Sl-o-v-a-k-s? No, they had it right. Let us have it the way they started it. They paid with blood and life for it, so it is really valuable. Without their payment we would not have had it.”

Mrs. Antonie Krejsa Kendrick is substantially of the same opinion: “There are good reasons for discarding the designations Bohemian and Czechs. But I see no reason for creating a new word such as Cheh. By all means let us use the one historical term Čech with the mark over the Č, and whenever necessary help the reader by parenthetical insertions, such as (Č pronounced as ch, as in check: ch pronounced as h). Should we change Čech into Cheh we encounter new troubles. What should we do with such names as Čeněk, Čapek, Čejkal, Brouček, Holeček and ad infinitum? Then we have the letter ř with a hook for which there is no close equivalent and, which I believe, only a Slav can pronounce. Is it not best to let the Americans wrestle with the č, ř, ž, and do the best they can? The average American will do as well with these sounds as he does with the German umlaut or such a generous German assemblage of consononts as in Zeuhlke, Schreibergardus, Wreichzel, Zeitmahl etc. Let us stand for the purity of the Čech language, not so much because it is patriotic to do so, but because language is the natural, logical and scientific development of the race which speaks it. It is a belonging of the race and fits it as a useful and comely garment becomes the person who wears it.”

Rev. Thomas Ballon objects to the whole term Čechoslovak. He says: “I realize that important political considerations led to the creation of this new term. But as a Moravian by birth I cannot understand how it is that for 46 years I have been a Čech and suddenly I find myself a Čechoslovak which means a Čech Slovak. I have always loved our Slovak brothers, but I object to the composite term. It seems to me that a Czechoslovak is either a Slovak who speaks Czech or a Czech who speaks Slovak or lives in Slovakia. Now that does not agree with similar terms. A Jugoslav is a Slav, a Little Russian is a Russian, and therefore Czechoslovak by analogy is a certain species of Slovak. The correct term in my opinion would be “Čecho-SIavs”, for we are all Slavs—Czechs, Moravians, Silesians, Slovaks, all Slavs of the Czech branch, therefore Čecho-Slavs.”

These are views held by people who are by birth Čechs or Czechs or Czechoslovaks, which ever may be the right term. But it seems that to Americans the word Bohemia will after all be the easiest and the one they will continue to use. This view is best expressed in an editorial article of the Baltimore News, which we are glad to give in its entirety.

“The Czecho-Slovak Review is, as the legend on its cover states, the organ of the American Czecho-Slovak Board. Title of Review and Board alike seem a gentle concession to Anglo-Saxon ignorance concerning the language of the new little State—a reciprocation, if you will, of the courteous Anglo-Saxon determination to give the State a name that will please it, even though one have to sneeze to pronounce the same.

“The current issue of the Review carries a very sensible article on the Anglicization of the name. We have done violence to a good many foreign countries and provinces in settling upon them designations which are but the feeblest approximations to what they call themselves. From our standpoint, which might justly be less concerned with compliment than familiar historical geography, the natural Anglo-Saxon name for the new State would be Bohemia. We will concede that Jan of Hussynecz was a Czech, but John Huss was, and he will ever remain, a Bohemian, born and martyred in Bohemia (sic). It seems a pity to draw the line so absolutely between the present and the past.

“But ‘Bohemia’ has in the course of time become a condition instead of a State. It is the land of the gipsies, the synonym for Romany. It is the land of the gay, the careless, the unconventional. Small wonder that the Czech, flushed with the pride of freedom at last, balks at its resurrection as an appellation for his reborn State. Bohemia would do very well for us, but not by any means for him.

“But the article, while it refuses consideration of any name that doesn’t signify the race rather than history, at least proposes to make the Slavic name as easy for us as possible. However willingly we would go the whole measure, Cz is a combination the Anglo-Saxon will stumble over as long as the English language remains. Now, if ever, is the time to get rid of it. We are rather surprised to find that besides being burdensome it is a wholly gratuitous imposition upon our good nature. The palatalized “c” is “ch”, as in “church” There is no “cz” combination in Bohemian. In order to be politely exact, simple spelling of any Slav name being an obvious impossibility, we have taken the most complicated spelling possible first, rendered the Czech word into Polish and then half-Anglicized that. Ch would be a very simply beginning: also the right one. As the author points out, “the English spelling of a Bohemian word in a Polish way, which to the average American is an incompreensible way, is an incomgruity which must be given up.”

“The rest is still more pleasing. Final ch in Bohemia is a soft h, as in “hold”—just a gentle intangible aspiration. Why snort it out as if it were a “k” inside a chestnut burr? Chehs, the Bohemians are to themselves; why not Chehs to the Anglo-Saxon world and Chehia their land?

“Here is a commendable effort to launch the name of a new State on the world correctly and simply. It so happens that the simplest, most natural Anglicization is the most correct. Possible the effort will not succeed; Czecho-Slovakia, barbarous though it be, has a good hold. But when one gets right down to brass tacks, what earthly need is there for the Czechs to worry over what we call them? A sibilant “Paris” doesn’t disturb the French, nor Holland the Dutch, nor “Constantinople” the denizens of Istambul. And as long as time goes on, John Huss will remain a Bohemian, and tourists will be able to run over to Bohemia with their eyes shut, though they need a map to locate Czecho-Slovakia—however one spell it.”

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.

This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.