Not very 'kleever': divisive row breaks out over library eatery

Take note – story published 8 years and 11 months ago

Latvian language purists are in a blue funk over plans to give an unusual name to the restaurant at the Latvian National Library.

The announcement last week that the eatery would be named "[klīver]" - complete with pretentious parentheses and trendy lower case lettering - caused an instant storm of protest for the simple reason that the word, pronounced "kleever" is not a true Latvian word.

"Klīveris" means a jib or boom on a ship.

"Klīvlenda" is the Latvian transcription of the US city and the UK region, Cleveland.

"Kliver" is also a verb meaning "step" or "climb" in Swedish.

Yet despite accusations on social media that this is further evidence of the takeover of English, neither is it an English word, though the homophone "cleaver" is a large butcher's implement used for chopping up meat - an image unlikely to attract many anglophone vegetarians to the diner. 

The official explanation is that it is a pun of sorts, transcribing the English word "clever" into a sort of vaguely Latvian equivalent probably suggestive of bibliophiliac intelligence, while also being a "stylized interpretation" of the library's location on the former Klīversala (Klīver island) which explains the nautical reference - historically the River Daugava beside the library's modern-day location would have been swarming with sailing boats.

[klīver] was chosen as the best suggestion from 800 public entries in a naming competition.

The State Language Center (VVC), which is charged with controlling usage of the Latvian language and can slap fines on individuals and businesses that don't mind their Ps and Qs, is unamused by the choice of name.

VVC director Maris Baltiņš launched an attack on the move that might be described as mordacious, nay, even acidulous, telling the BNS news service the move was "unfriendly towards the Latvian language" and that it "smacks of the age of German cultural domination when everything foreign (non-Latvian) was thought of as fine and intelligent." 

A statement released by the VVC said it was "very surprised" by the choice of name and "VVC hopes that the selection of the name can still be changed to a word of Latvian origin."

However a quick internet search reveals the word is not entirely without meaning: "Kleever (alternately known as Kleaver) is a living sword that is a boss in [computer game] Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest."

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