This article is part of the Today We Learn English! series.
O, student! How diligent must you have been, for to have surmounted all previous chapters and emerged atop the lofted peak of the most advanced of the lessons! How your marms and masters must vaunt your splendor with all available breath! Now a true master of English, you shall find little discomfiture even in this, the ultimate lesson, the height of perplexity.
In each language, there are manifold peculiarities with which to contend. English, in this regard, is no crow’s cousin. Do you see? Already we have bumped against one of the idiomatic phrases which makes English the most rich and unique of tongues. An expert of English fluency must command all facets of the language, including even the most defeating of oddities.
Tarry and comprehend:
I) The Mood of Nouns
Many languages, including our own, assign each noun a gender and sometimes a routing number. They who do not speak English may be initially confused by the lack of these things attached to English nouns. For example, speakers of another language may describe objects as thus:
Dorroile: Mary, which shall I buy, Sire Sheepcoat or Dame Walruscoat?
Mary: Dally me not, Dorroile, for I have misplaced Sire Swab deeply inside Dame Ear Canal (0227 4882) and cannot for the life of me remove it.
Such a conversation would have little meaning in English; in English, even the finest Walruscoat has no use for a lingual sex. While to our ears such a conceit is a preposterity, English makes up for the lack of genders by assigning each noun a mood. Every noun in English is either pessimistic or optimistic. While there are no special signifier words attached to nouns to exhibit the distinction, the mood of a noun becomes clear in the context. Hey, observe:
Arthur: Jolly fine day, there is a thumbnail in my flan!
(In this example, both thumbnail and flan are optimistic.)
Weyre: Misery and bother, there is a spine in my damnable custard!
(In this case, both spine and custard are pessimistic.)
Dorroile: What twist of fortune would bless this putrid pudding with this beatific severed hoof?
(Here, we see that pudding is pessimistic and severed hoof is optimistic.)
The mood of nouns can only be learned from experience and overhearing, so keep your ears keenly attuned. In time, the moods of all English nouns will become clear, and you may then speak without committing humiliating and illegal blunders.
II) Rhetorical Questions, Complaintive Questions, and Sporting Questions
While most languages of the world merely use one form of question, English finds the time to display no less than three. A rhetorical question, also called a trick question, is a question for whom there is no counterpart in fact. Such questions are used to trap and deride the respondent, as is evident in the following production:
Dorroile: Mary, is love real?
Mary: In a certain sense, perhaps it is.
Dorroile: Ha! Leave it to an unmarried woman to pluck such foolish strains from the dismal instrument of the heart!
Mary: I’ll pluck something foolish from you!
A complaintive question is an interrogation designed to express frustration or discomfort regarding the inquisited party. Complaintive questions, when unwarranted, should be ignored or promptly destroyed. Examine:
Arthur: Arthur, did you perchance visit the canal today?
Weyre: I did.
Arthur: And were you driving my beloved car small near the canal?
Weyre: I was.
Arthur: And did you willfully drive my favorite small car into the canal in order to embarrass me and burden me with financial hardship?
Weyre: I did this thing and I loved doing it, and still I remorselessly love that I have done it!
Arthur: Your childlike zeal mitigates your evil deed, my dear friend.
As you can see, Arthur’s use of a complaintive question rather than an accusation allowed Weyre to justify his deeds and averted a possible conflict. In this case, was the employment of a complaintive question warranted? The answer is the dominion of your mind alone, student. When your meditation has borne fruit, proceed to the next sublesson.
A sporting question is a question which implies a wager of money or valuable objects in exchange for the fulfillment of a feat. Consider this interchange:
Dorroile: Say, what would you offer me if I were to drink these expired casks of medicinal oxbile oil?
Mary: I would offer only a meager sum, being as that your inevitably painful death would be but a cheap diversion.
Dorroile: I’ll take it!
III) The Gentleman’s Bore
A hoary tradition of the English tongue is the contest between two men, upon their first meeting, to decide which man can bore the other man most, and which man can endure the most boredom. This friendly exhibit of masculine sleight is less combative than a firm handshake and more decisive than a vulgar comparison of anatomy, making it the most elegant of the greeting rituals. Hark: this example introduces goodyoung Dorroile and goodyoung Weyre, who henceforth have not coacquainted:
Weyre: Hello, I am Weyre. I was born not far from here and have never been more than five kilometers from my home.
Dorroile: Good morning, I am Dorroile, I edit technical manuals for small appliance components and at my leisure I drive my car around town and try to memorize traffic signs.
Weyre: I am pleased to meet you, Dorroile. I often take photographs of my favorite stretches of curb. I have over six thousand photographs of the austere grey curb outside of my dwelling, most of which nearly identical, and I would love to show them to you one day.
Dorroile: That would delight me, Weyre. I am eager to tell you about the dream I had last night, in which I was forever trying to solve an infinite sliding tile puzzle—
Weyre: Enough! I yield!
Dorroile: Yes, that was among the signs I memorized.
Women, who have no biological need to compete with one another, are exempt from this ritual. Women who attempt to bore men in jest are often mistakenly placed in menstrual asylums, so ladies should take pains to avoid engaging in masculine discourse.
IIII) The Formal Impediment
When addressing a minor elder, a sublord, an officious dandy, or any other semisuperior who does not warrant address with the Mannerly Tense (see Lesson Eight, Part IIIIII: The Mannerly Tense), it is a matter of politeness to affect a sincere yet intelligible impediment to the speech. While a simple lisp may be considered sarcastic, an earnest, gawking drawl and an air of severe mental incapacity can make a favorable impression. In the ensuing example, we shall pretend that Mary lords minor superiority over Dorroile. Attend:
Mary: Speak, squire.
Dorroile: Waaah, fanks fuh allow muh tur speacch.
Mary: Think nothing of it. Please continue.
Dorroile: Glurgle (dispassionately vomits down his own face and neck).
Mary: You flatter me, dimwit.
IIIII) The Adult Delicacy
When adults address children in the English language, care must be taken to spare their young minds from the details of adult life. Therefore, it is customary to speak in elaborate euphemisms in order to shield youths from difficult adult vagaries. In this example, we will imagine that Dorroile is a child and Mary is an adult who is explaining the death of his favorite tortoise.
Dorroile: Mary, why is my tortoise so grey?
Mary: Dorroile, your tortoise has joyously escaped from the rigors of vitality.
Dorroile: Has it died?
Mary: For a tortoise, being still and pallid is merely the representation of an exceedingly relaxed form of health. So, we shall say that your tortoise is the model of health, correct?
In the following example, imagine that Weyre is a young child who has entered a room in which Allan and Courtney are interned in a coitus:
Weyre: What are you doing?
Allan: I am using this fleshy pestle to grind up a poisonous biting spider which has crawled inside Courtney’s mortar. Please leave, because it is dangerous.
Weyre: Godspeed, then!
IIIII) The Slang
One of the elements that makes English so frothy and boisterous is the always-changing slang of the youthpeople. Some English speech, particularly among the inferior castes, is so brindled with oddwords that a visiting barbarian may have great difficulty following the vernacular. Although the slang of the English world changes so ever more rapid than can be harnessed in text, the following words have found trepid purchase in the soil of permanence:
Troub: A condensed version of “troubadour.” The term refers to a wandering youth who embodies the carefree spirit of frivolity, but can be used to describe any fashionable young man. Ex.: “Do you see that troub in the iron necktie? Surely he is desired by homosexuals.”
Brisket: Attractive breasts, usually those of a lady. Ex.: “Such a brisket! O, I do collapse!”
Helch: A merry and invulgar expletive bandied among young compatriots. Ex.: “Helch, my retina is detached.”
Hair: Money. Ex.: “I would love to join you at the sports parade, but I haven’t enough hair to pay for admission.”
Squalor: A dwelling. Ex.: “Would you care to join me in my squalor for an evening of coitus?”
Mormal: An unattractive person or a member of the constabulary. Ex.: “Conceal your brisket, dame, here approaches a mormal.”
The Chalice-of-Arkley: Good; favorable; fashionable. Ex.: “The golden turnstiles that goodyoung Croisquessein has purchased for his squalor are the Chalice-of-Arkley!”
Today, oh youth, you have truly learned English! A world of wealth and opportunity is now open to you as an English speaker, for you are now as fluent as a born native. If you are still burdened with concern, please refer to earlier sections of Today We Learn English and review the education morsels contained therein. Good luck in the modern world, former student!
The Remains of Bidet (James Ivory, 1993)
We might find we have more in common than we think if we just stop fighting long enough to combine our bodies into a singular organism.
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