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Monday, November 05, 2007



In Cambodia there are two English language newspapers. The Cambodia Daily and the Phnom Penh Post which comes out fortnightly. The Daily runs a lot of international news usually sourced from major American newspapers. The Post runs only news that relates directly to Cambodia. It gives a good overview of life in this country. I found it useful for catching up with what has been happening while I've been away.

There is a royalist political party here named Funcipec. This party has chosen Princess Norodom Arun Rasmey, youngest daughter of the King Father (the retired King Sihanouk), as its candidate for Prime Minister in next year's national election.

The party's secretary general stated three reasons for choosing the princess as a candidate: to encourage women into politics; she has never had any experience regarding corruption or nepotism; she is the daughter of the King Father.

I'm not questioning whether the princess is a worthwhile candidate. However, unless something has been lost in the translation, there seems to be a contradiction here.

I love language and I love computers. I love computers because I can carry around three sizeable dictionaries quite easily. Imagine putting three large dictionaries in a backpack while travelling from country to country. I reckon I'd soon get tired of it. But I have three dictionaries and an encyclopedia on my hard disk and the whole thing weighs about 2.4 kilos.

I'm not so smart that I think I know exactly what every word means. But when I read about the princess' appointment, I felt there was a contradiction. Isn't 'nepotism' something to do with appointing relatives to important positions? So if she is chosen because she is the daughter of the King Father, isn't that nepotism?

The Oxford American Dictionary that came free with my Mac gives the definition of 'nepotism' as 'the practice among those with power or influence of favoring relatives or friends, esp. by giving them jobs.'

I must digress here because one of the things I like about a good dictionary is that if there is a juicy story about the origin of a word they tell it. Apparently 'nepotism' comes from the Italian word for 'nephew' and refers to privileges bestowed on the 'nephews' of popes, who were in many cases their illegitimate sons.

The president of Funcipec, who just happens to be the husband of the princess, stated that the party spent a year making reforms such as eliminating nepotism and corruption. Let's hope they have a better understanding of the meaning of the word 'corruption' than they appear to have of 'nepotism'.

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