A reader alerted me to this minor flap over the “UN for Taiwan” slogan. Apparently a blogger at Wandering in Wulai argued that the phrase UN for Taiwan was bad English. The blogger had also complained that the Post Office was stamping UN for Taiwan on the outgoing mail.

補習班外籍老師陶維極向本報投訴,抗議郵局侵犯他的言論自由,擅自在他寄到美國給未婚妻的信件上蓋上「UN for TAIWAN」的入聯標語,他怒指這是獨裁作法,政府不能利用私人郵件當作執政黨宣傳品。

As far as his complaint is concerned, the government’s use of private outgoing mail to spread its political slogans is unconscionable and should cease immediately. What if Ma Ying-jeou wins and the Post Office starts having “Mongolia is part of the ROC!” or “Chen Shui-bian causes global warming!” stamped on every outgoing piece of mail? Stupid to set a precedent like this — isn’t it one of Taiwan’s biggest problems that both sides have thoroughly politicized the government?

Talovich also complained that the English of “UN for Taiwan” was bad:

他指出,「唯一可以安慰的是,這句不成文的英文,外國人一定看不懂。UN for TAIWAN應該是聯合國送給台灣的意思,但新聞局長還說這句英文沒問題,實在看不懂,這不是英文。」

“…it’s not grammatical. Foreigners just won’t get it. ‘UN for Taiwan’ means giving the UN to Taiwan….”

Talovich posted on his blog an update:

本blog上禮拜四(十月十一日)提出,UN for Taiwan不成英文。結果,立委因而質問新聞局長,新聞局長堅持UN for Taiwan沒錯。

很好,很好,他是大官,他認為對就好了。外國人看不懂就是了。

Last Thursday this blog observed that UN for Taiwan isn’t good English. As a result, a legislator asked the GIO head about it, and the GIO said there was no problem.

Ok, ok, he’s the boss, so if he thinks it’s ok, it must be ok. If foreigners don’t understand, that’s OK too.

Talovich’s complaint about the abuse of private emails was spot on, but his understanding of English is a bit deficient. Phrases such as “A for B” are not uncommon. When a traveler says “It’s California for me!” no one understands him to be saying that the State of California is to be given to him. Similarly, if the speaker says “It’s Harvard for me,” all listeners understand that he will attend that university, not that he is being given that university. Again, if a group of individuals is being asked what their political preferences are, it is perfectly acceptable to answer “Democratic party for me.” Only a complete fool would imagine that the speaker was demanding the Democratic party be handed over to him. “UN for Taiwan” likewise expresses a powerful wish in a shortened form: “The UN should be for Taiwan, too!” or something similar. It’s a shame that Talovich gave such an erroneous interpretation for the bottom feeders at UDN to feast on.

But let’s go further: in advertising and in oral language, skewed language is often a signal of memorable language. “Have you Met Life today,” the slogan of Met Life, makes its point by drawing on the ambiguity in the reader’s perception of “Met Life” as an erroneous verb (as a neologism it should have an -ed on the end), instead of just “met” as the verb, with “life” as its object. I doubt anyone has written the large food company that uses “Beanz Meanz Heinz” to kvetch that the first two “Zs” are wrong. Think Pringles has a legion of Tovarich-s complaining that “Once you pop, the fun don’t stop” is grammatically unacceptable? In fact the relatively unusual construction of UN for Taiwan may well command the attention of those who come across it, just as “Leggo my Eggo!” is probably still memorable to many Americans in my generation.

If the reader wishes to argue that UN for Taiwan is a poor slogan regardless of its grammatical status — and I know some of you will — please place a better three-word slogan in the comments below. Pay close attention to the meter; whatever you may say about the grammar, the meter of UN for Taiwan is excellent — the syllables are nicely stressed so that the phrase rolls right off the tongue.

UPDATE: Lots of good comments below.