Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Entrepreneur




According to a Web site called theholidayspot, here is how one says Happy New Year in Afghanistan:

Saale nao mubbarak.

In Persia--such as Iran:

Sale-e no mobarak.

In India, where Hindi is spoken:

Naye Varsha Ki Shubhkanyen.

I hope this site is sufficiently trustworthy that I haven't written something like "please chew on a pebble," or worse. If I've misplaced my trust, I apologize.

Happy New Year in Swedish is as follows: Glad nytt år. So "year" in Swedish sounds like "oar" in English. That's what that little circle does to the pronunciation of the a.

In Italian, HNY is buono anno nouvo, I think.

In French: Bonne annee.

Which brings me, because I wanted it to do so, to the word entrepreneur, which springs from the French verb entreprendere, at least according to the OED online. And that verb means "to undertake [something]," but not, I presume, in the sense of what an undertaker does, although of course one could undertake mortuary-work and thereby undertake undertaking and be an entrepreneur.

It is a wee bit ironic that one of American capitalists' favorite words is French, partly because American/French relations have always been composed of "love/hate," but also because Americans tend to think of entrepreneurship as so essentially "American." Further, after France did not fully support the U.S. invasion of Iraq, rightward-leaning American folk became most incensed; you remember the silly "freedom fries" episode in the political spectacle back then.

I remember the comedian Dennis Miller's sounding off at the time. (At some point, Miller decided his views were mostly in line with those of George W. Bush, and he even has a gig on Fox News now, where he seems uneasy.) He said that because of France's absence of support for the invasion, "France is dead to me." I found that statement pretty amusing even though he did not intend as a joke. Of course, it seems to be borrowed from gangster lingo, but for one citizen of a country to say that a whole nation is dead to him or her may reflect an overly expansive view of that citizen's power. I don't think France is worried about "being dead" to one one American comedian with a spotty but extremely entrepreneurial resume. Imagine an American's response to learning that a French mime considered the USA "dead to me."

Oddly enough, "entrepreneur" in English originally referred to someone who organized musical events. That is, it seems to have been limited to "show business." In this sense, one of the earliest references is from 1828, in England. But by 1852, the word in English meant pretty much what it means now. It is always of interest (to me) when a language and/or a culture seems to "need" a word from a different language to fill some kind of perceived hole in the native language. Such is the case with "ombudsperson," for example--a Swedish word, one of the very few imported directly into English.

In business-like fashion, I've attempted to write a poem concerning this word, entrepreneur. I'm afraid I have been too business-like with regard to the title.


Entrepreneur

Think of this poem as a new business.
Welcome! How may I help you?
We're running a special sale
on images, including a blackened
big toe, the variegated fur of a
domestic cat, and a freckle
on a woman's lower back. Will
that be cash or credit?

Alas, this business fails
to turn a profit. Isn't that
just like poetry? --Always
thinking of itself and not
the bottom line. What

was Andrew Carnegie's
favorite poem? . . . Oh, dear:
Thugs sent by this poem's
venture-capital investors
have arrived. They want
their money back, plus
the vig. We must escape.
We'll meet up later in a bar.

A bar. Now there's a real
business: exchanging vessels
of distilled and brewed liquids
for cash, listening to failed
entrepreneurs--and poets
of every kind--tell their
tales of woe, wiping the dark
wooden bar clean. "Last call!"


Hans Ostrom Copyright 1008 Hans Ostrom
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