Sometimes I'll write a stupid joke in this column and a reader will accuse me of being racist. Actually, I've been defending that charge for years, not that my parents, opposing lawyers, and local migrant workers have been able to build a strong case. The truth is, all races are cool with me, but I reserve the right to find stereotypes funny in perpetuity.
If I see an Indian guy selling questionable hotdogs at the 7-11, it'll put a smile on my face. Not because it's bad or pitiable — that guy is probably making more money than me — but because it's fulfilling such an old and ridiculous expectation. It's the same thing if I see a cop eating a donut, or an Asian woman having trouble parallel parking. Life imitating art imitating life, or something like that.
The biggest problem I have with Russian is that moon-man Cyrillic alphabet they use. Hating other races is not OK, but finding amusement in their quirks is at least defensible. Hey, as a Jew, I have to withstand my fair share of matzo jokes. And you'd be surprised just how much comedy you can wrangle out of a dry slab of unleavened bread. But what if it's not other people you hate; what if it's their language? I'm not a racist or a sexist, but I think it would be fair to call me…a linguist? I know a bit about languages and I have an axe to grind with a lot of them.
In some weird way, it's become fashionable to mock the French. Most of the jokes I hear from late-night TV monologues concern France's unfortunate war record, the hygiene of its citizens, or some combination of the two. In reality, every single French person I've ever met has been cool, athletic, and generous.
But the mechanics of the French language drive me crazy. It was the first foreign language I had any exposure to, and the idea of nouns having a gender was a bit confusing. If I want to refer to a pencil, is it un stylo or une stylo? I'm lucky enough to have my own gender identity sorted out; the last thing I need is to have to remember whether every single object on Earth is masculine or feminine.
And I don't want to belabor the point, but they're fucking pencils. They don't have reproductive organs. They don't go the prom. They don't bleed lead once a month. I came close to failing grade 7 French because I spent too much time fantasizing about erotic female school supplies.
Quebec French is a different story altogether. Say you want to describe an awesome Saturday barbeque in Montreal. Here's all the vocabulary you need:
English Quebec French
Weekend un weekend
Picnic un picnic
Hot dog un hotdog
Hamburger un hamburger
Party un party
You see what I mean? It's OK for a language to have loanwords, but Quebec French is wholesale plagiarism. Of course there are native words, but they often sound dirty. For example, a rooster is un coque, and a seal is un foque. If you want a cheap laugh, ask a French girl how to say "I would gladly take your rooster for a seal."
Movies would have you believe that French is the most romantic language, but according to my sources, which may or may not include the Batcomputer, Italian is the language that will have girls dropping their panties faster than you can say Mi scusi, dov'è il bagno? That's pretty much why I hate it. It's like this secret weapon of seduction that I don't have access to.
I actually took a semester of Italian in my last year of University, with the hope of entrancing a comely young lass with my words. The only thing I really learned is how to order a lemonade with sugar. Thanks, Professor Useless-io!
Without going into too much detail, I get kind of nervous whenever I hear German. It's not exactly a language to be whispered between two lovers. It's more the kind of language that's barked at you during an interrogation by enemy soldiers, before Bruce Willis rescues you. German is an agglutinative language, which means long words are formed by linking together fragments like so much bratwurst. Here's what I had to say about that from a previous article:
The average German speaker sounds like a tracheotomized Klingon, and the vocabulary is nuts. By smashing together suffixes and prefixes, they can cram a whole sentence's worth of information into one word. For example, whereas I might say "subway," the Germans might say something like Der Undergroundenzoomentracken. That seems like a waste of perfectly good syllables.
My girlfriend speaks Spanish. Needless to say, my familiarity with the language is limited to the stream of expletives I get whenever I stare at some other girl's cleavage — but you'd be surprised how much of a language you can learn when each word is punctuated by a knee to the cojones. The problem is, I can't differentiate between that and non-angry Spanish. Native speakers go a thousand miles an hour, and any hope of understanding them is wiped out by having to dodge the spit when they roll their r's.
My other source for Spanish vocabulary is the memory of Sesame Street, back when it was charming and kind of trippy. I might forget my own name due to senile dementia, but I'll never forget the difference between abierto and cerrado. And to this day, I can only count to ten in Spanish by means of a catchy song. What I don't like, however, are the upside-down question marks. It's like punctuation from Bizarro World.
Unless you were born there, Chinese has to be the hardest language one can possibly attempt. First of all, the writing is artistic, and it makes for a good Olympic logo, but I still haven't figured out how they cram thousands of characters onto, say, a Blackberry. I can't decipher notes I wrote to myself two minutes ago, so I shudder to think how hard it must be look at thousands of tiny pictures and remember that it's time to buy more roasted pig's face.
Also, Chinese is a tone language, which means words that are pronounced the same way take on new meanings, depending on whether one's tone is rising or falling. Wikipedia says the monosyllable /ji/ can refer to the characters for chicken, machine, and stimulated. If that's true, the advertising campaign for my new poultry masturbator is going to be confusing as hell in China.
I lived there for a few years, and trust me, there are many things to dislike about the Japanese language. First of all, it's ridiculously intertwined with social factors. The language you use is a decision based on who you're talking to; their gender, age, and job experience relative to yours. There are multiple gradations of polite speech, each one with a different set of rules. You wouldn't want to email your boss the same way you address your grandmother during a tea ceremony. It's enough to make you want to communicate exclusively through messenger pigeon.
I also object to the way things are counted in Japanese. Items have a kind of counter suffix, and there are different counters for everything. For example, to express the idea "two dogs" in Japanese you would say inu nihiki (literally "dog two-small-animal"). I hope you can appreciate how retarded this is. These counters are often based on the shape of the item being counted. In other words, if you have three apples, three hamsters, and three cucumbers, you're going to need a bunch of different words for "three," not to mention a hell of a lot of lube.
I don't even like the word "Portuguese." It looks likes it's spelled wrong. Also, it's too similar to Spanish. Hey, Mr. Pibb couldn't compete in the marketplace next to Dr. Pepper. It's only a matter of time before Portuguese is muscled out. There are millions of Brazilians who won't be happy, but they'll get over it by the time Carnival rolls around.
I know exactly one word of Portuguese — obrigado meaning "thank you." And in my opinion, it's way too fruity a word to express gratitude. If I ever have to thank someone is Lisbon, I'll just buy him a cerveja.
The biggest problem I have with Russian is that moon-man Cyrillic alphabet they use. It kind of looks like the Roman alphabet if you squint hard enough, but if you tried to pronounce a sentence based on this resemblance, you might wind up offering to trade your daughter for some peasant's oxen.
Like Russian, Polish syllable structure can be quite complex with both initial and final consonant clusters of up to 4 consecutive sounds. What this means is, you get words like bezwzgl?dny (absolute) or przest?pstwo (crime). And I know it must be a natural process for native speakers to pronounce these monstrosities, but if I ever attempt to learn Polish, I'm going to need some kind of tongue augmentation surgery. Come to think of it, that might cut down on the amount of Spanish swearing I hear from my girlfriend.
These are actually a collection of languages spoken in Central Africa, but if you're waiting for me to get any more specific than that, you're wildly underestimating my reliance on Wikipedia. What I hate about these African languages is the fact that they employ click consonants. You know that sound you can make by sucking on your front teeth? This is how some people talk. Also, giant cockroaches.
They use clicks like we use letters of the alphabet. I dread the day my beloved Sesame Street is brought to you by the number 3 and the sound of lips smacking together. I don't want to be culturally insensitive, but these clicks might just be the reason why civilization kinda got stuck in neutral down there. You can't spell a click, and without the written word, hunter-gatherers are never going to move on to things like Scrabble and Penthouse Forum.
I also kind of resent Hebrew. Not because of anything about the language itself, but only because I had to go to Hebrew school every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon when I was a kid. When I think of all the G.I. Joe I must have missed, it makes me wish Charlton Heston had never given us the Ten Commandments.
Latin is a dead language, but that hasn't stopped some idiots, including me, from studying it. I enjoyed Latin the same way non-Europeans pretend to enjoy cricket. There are a lot of stupid, finicky rules, but if you just go with the flow, you might be able to ignore the fact that you're basically wasting your time. The most important thing I learned from Latin class is that high school is a dark and lonely time for some types. That, and how to use the dative case in a pluperfect sentence.
Thank god I speak English. Trust me, you're not going to find a site like Points in Case written in, say, Hungarian. Even though it probably has twelve different words for cabbage, at least that's a real language. Look at something like Esperanto, which was made up one night by a couple of stoned guys with a tape recorder. If you study Esperanto, you might as well study Romulan or Elvish while you're at it, fruitcake.
|Essential New Word of the Week:|
greasewheel n [‘griswil]
I'm trying to eat healthier these days, and one of things I've cut out is pizza. Sure, I could get some healthy approximation, with whole wheat, and cottage cheese and alfalfa sprouts, but I think I would sooner kill myself than insult the memory of pizza like that. Real pizza is loaded with fatty meats; a circular piece of rapture covered in melted cheese. If you're ordering a late night snack, you should be able to wring it out like a wet sponge, and that's why we call it a greasewheel.