Chatterbox previously explained (here and here) that the standard English term to describe a person from Afghanistan is “Afghan,” not “Afghani.” But will anyone listen? Not TheNew Yorker, which continues to use the two terms interchangeably. The latest offender is Isabel Hilton, whose otherwise excellent piece on the Pashtun tribe in the Dec. 3 issue is marred by the following sentence: “Not every Pashtun is an Afghani—a citizen of Afghanistan—but every Pashtun considers himself an Afghan, and the Pashtun have always regarded themselves as the country’s natural leaders.” The notion that “Afghani” denotes an Afghan citizen while “Afghan” denotes an Afghan resident or loyalist is, as best as Chatterbox can make out, pure invention. (If anything, it would go the other way: “Afghani Arab” has achieved some currency as a way to describe an Arab who is not from Afghanistan but who has punched his Islamic-fundamentalist ticket slaughtering the infidel in Afghanistan.) It’s particularly odd to see the word “Afghani” show up in an article about the Pashtun because the standard-English word “Afghan” is derived from Pashto, language of the Pashtun, who represent the largest ethnic minority in Afghanistan. The nonstandard-English word “Afghani” is derived from Dari, which is spoken by the Tajiks (Afghanistan’s second-largest ethnic group), and also from Urdu.
In a Nov. 26 column, Mark Steyn busted his own newspaper, Canada’s National Post, for altering a column by Janet Daley of London’s Daily Telegraph in the following manner: Everywhere she wrote “Afghan,” the National Post changed it to “Afghani.” Steyn portrayed this as a ridiculous exercise in political correctness: “Hitherto, Anglicization of foreign place names has been an accepted custom.” But if the National Post’s goal was to kowtow to foreign sensibilities, they botched that, too, because “Afghan” is an Anglicization of a Pashtun word that sounds very much like … well, “Afghan.” The Taliban enemy, being Pashtun, refers to itself as “Afghan,” not “Afghani.” The only context in which “Afghan” would be an Anglicization of “Afghani” would be if one were translating from Dari or Urdu.