Tonight I went to the ATM with my sister. I rode shotgun – literally. Okay, not QUITE literally, but I was in the passenger’s seat (riding “shotgun”) in a protective capacity (true enough – not with an ACTUAL shotgun – BUT with an oh-so-stern demeanor – poised to shout out, “You leave my *#&^@* sister alone!” to any would-be carjacker, thief or chance reprobate). After all, it WAS late to be getting cash all by one’s lonesome. She said something about having been stuck in the “Hmoob” language the last time she came and not being able to get out of the “Hmoob” screens. I did not really understand what she was talking about; I thought she had been stuck at a malfunctioning ATM that was spitting out computerese gobbledy-gook instead of English and “Hmoob” was her cute term for it. Then I realized that she was saying she was stuck on some sort of actual secondary language screens. I didn’t see why this should be an issue, as at MY bank, the ATM only offers the choice of English and Spanish, and she is fluent in both. Eventually, she actually navigated back through the screens and had me look at them. They offered SIX language choices: English, Spanish, Korean (in characters), Japanese? (in characters), Vietnamese, and – lo and behold – Hmoob. My uninformed contention was that it was not a language at all; I thought it was a computer programming place-holder for another language. But she explained that the bank formerly had only offered English, Spanish and “Hmoob” and argued that they wouldn’t have left “Hmoob” there when they added the Asian languages unless it was a genuine choice. Admittedly, some of the combinations of letters did look like words and sentences. But I was still skeptical. What ethnicity has a large enough local population here that they required a language option BEFORE Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese (one that I’d never heard of, anyway)? There were a lot of vowels – I mused that perhaps it was a language from the Pacific Islands (Tongan or Samoan, perhaps).

Well, I am stupid. Perchance not holistically stupid, per se, but I am ignorant (locally that would be pronounced “ignernt”) for sure.

I googled “Hmoob” when I got home, and I got big time “SCHOOLED” (as the young folks say these days – also “taken to school”*).

“Hmoob” is the English term (spelled out phonetically) chosen by the “Hmong” people (who, logically enough, speak the “Hmong” language) to identify themselves in writing. From Wikipedia:

The Hmong, also known as Miao (Chinese: 苗: Miáo; Vietnamese: MÚo or HmÎng; Thai: แม้ว (Maew) or ม้ง (Mong)), are an Asian ethnic group speaking the Hmong language, whose homeland is in the mountainous regions of southern China (especially Guizhou) that cross into northern Southeast Asia (northern Vietnam and Laos). The term “Miao” is offensive to some Hmong people.[This is possibly because the term “Miao,” orginally meaning “seedling” in Chinese, has been taken over by the Vietnamese, Laotions, etc., and it is only used to define people whom they consider to be “barbarians.”] Today, they form the fifth largest of the 56 nationalities officially recognized by the People’s Republic of China.

So – PLEASE, my friends, learn from my gaffe and do not arbitrarily insult languages on an ATM by referring to them as “computer babble” or the like because – oh yes – THERE IS A HMOOB. Let’s just leave it at that. Otherwise, I would have to explain that the “Hmong” language consists of thirty or forty “mutually unintelligible dialects” and “belongs, together with the Bunu language, to the Miao branch of the Hmong-Mien (Miao-Yao) language family.” Fear not – in America, there are only two main Hmong groups, and for most purposes, the “White Hmong” or Mong der dialect is used.

Oh yes – you’ve been SCHOOLED!

*I KNOW – it sounds like I’m seventy-seven years old. Even though I have been known, upon occasion, to swear like a proverbial sailor, I also say “Oh dear” pretty habitually (I inherited this from maternal grandmother – she used to visit us when we lived in California and my Mom says that I would wander around at age two saying, “Oh dear,” for weeks afterwards). But I really must blame my Father. He is only sixty-two and he has been using phrases like, “Back in my day,” and “In my day,” for years and years – I’d swear he has even used the term “good ol’?? days.”