The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘language’ Category

AMERICA THE BABEL(ING)

Genesis 11:1-9 describes the familiar story of the Tower of Babel:

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

8 So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel – because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

It has often been said that what differentiates people from other animals is our ability to communicate through speech.  Of course, it is not important that we can make speech but that that speech has meaning to our fellow human beings.  A Finn only fluent in Finnish can not communicate any more effectively with a Bantu who speaks only Bantu than an elephant can communicate with a wombat.

The new secular humanism that we find throughout American society today, in its efforts to establish itself as the new state religion, recognizes the importance that language plays in their efforts to divide and conquer.  It is my belief, for that reason, that in their role as pseudo-lord, they are making every effort to confuse Americans by attempting to make this nation into a polyglot country.

If we have any question that a common language serves to unify a people, we have to look no further than the example which China has set.  One of the key programs which the government of China imposed was that it recognized Mandarin as the official language of the country (guo yu).  While people could continue to speak the over one thousand different dialects that existed, they were forced to learn the official language.

In fact, the government went about the work of simplifying the characters in which Chinese had universally been written (although the spoken word was quite different from province to province) in order that more people would be able to learn to read it.

The United States has moved in exactly the opposite direction.  While we have no officially “ordained” language established by the Constitution, for over two hundred years, English was the “de facto” official language.  Immigrants who came to the country realized that they (or at least their children) had to learn it in order to have a chance of success in their new homeland.

In part, that was because signs, legal documents, election ballots, bank statements and virtually everything else that was of legal or financial importance were written in English and only in English.  There was no government pronouncement on English as our “official language”.  But neither was there any intervention on government’s part to alter the customs of the country which were well established.

That, of course, has changed dramatically.  The “progressive” agenda of the government has begun to play a serious role in how we Americans communicate with one another – or fail to do so.  The Justice Department believes that it has the right to dictate to local election districts in what language(s) they must print election materials including ballots to accommodate minority populations for whom English is not their primary language.

And businesses have, as a matter of self-interest rather than merely through government pressure (although there has been much of that as well), adopted that same technique.  We have all experienced calling a bank or utility and been told by the robotic menu to press “1” for English or “2” for Spanish.  This morning, my ATM offered me those two choices in which to continue my transaction.  (Why not Swahili)?

The man who invented Esperanto in the late 19th century, Dr. Ludwig Lazarus Zamenhof realized that a common language was essential to establishing a common understanding between people who were diverse:

“The place where I was born and spent my childhood gave direction to all my future struggles. In Bialystok the inhabitants were divided into four distinct elements: Russians, Poles, Germans and Jews; each of these spoke their own language and looked on all the others as enemies. In such a town a sensitive nature feels more acutely than elsewhere the misery caused by language division and sees at every step that the diversity of languages is the first, or at least the most influential, basis for the separation of the human family into groups of enemies. I was brought up as an idealist; I was taught that all people were brothers, while outside in the street at every step I felt that there were no people, only Russians, Poles, Germans, Jews and so on. This was always a great torment to my infant mind.  Although many people may smile at such an ‘anguish for the world’ in a child, at that time I thought that ‘grown-ups’ were omnipotent.  So I often said to myself that when I grew up I would certainly destroy this evil.”

We really have to do little but sit down with a few days’ worth of news stories to understand the vision that Dr. Zamenhof had, even as a child.  The Zimmerman verdict is an obvious example.  Although in this case, those who are outraged at the outcome and those who support it mostly speak a version of English – but they are two separate and completely different languages.

Were I to sit down with those who are the most vocal and try to engage in a meaningful conversation, I know that I would have to select my words carefully.  That is not for fear of offense but in order to communicate with them.  I would have to try not to employ words that I learned past my grammar school education.

I suspect that if I had written and printed up this post in time for last week’s rallies and distributed it to those marching for “justice,” only a very small percentage would have been able to comprehend much of the vocabulary and an even smaller percentage would have understood the thrust of it.

That paragraph was not written with the intent to demean those who have been under-served by our “educational” system.  It was written to point out a harsh reality that unfortunately exists.  We have managed to “educate” several generations of an underclass that can only communicate with one another; that no intelligent business owner would hire; and that is lost in the mire of limited and garbled verbiage, unable to express their frustration other than through bursts of outrage.

“With all thy getting, get understanding.”  – Proverbs 4:7

There will never be understanding between people if we cannot comprehend what each of us is saying.  And our present policies, unfortunately, are designed to insure that we communicate by using sticks and stones rather than through a dispassionate conversation and a warm handshake.

ASSUMPTIONS AND CONCLUSIONS

If more people had a grasp of the subtleties of the English language, we might go far toward eliminating some of the misunderstanding which exists between us.  But unfortunately, too many of our citizens communicate with a highly limited vocabulary and a poor understanding of the meaning of the words they employ in their speech.

Much of the conversation circling around the question of the profiling of people whom the police believe are likely candidates to commit crimes has taken place because people don’t understand the difference between two important words – assumptions and conclusions.  Unfortunately, President Obama in speaking on the subject today might have reinforced this confusion.

Simply put, an assumption is a belief or feeling to  which a person holds without having the evidence either to support or reject an opinion.  Some assumptions are undoubtedly based on prejudice – whether it is racial, or not trying a specific food because of the way it looks – if it looks funny it probably tastes bad – that sort of thing.

By making the statement that, “Trayvon Martin might have been he,” the President played to his audience and suggested that those who make assumptions merely based on physical characteristics are dangerous elements in our society.  I believe that he referred, as he has in the past, to law enforcement – and now, of course, to private citizens who might have reacted in the same way that George Zimmerman did.

We’ll get back to the President’s statement later in this post.

Let’s turn our attention to the word conclusion.  A conclusion is an opinion that a person may hold after she or he has looked at data, evaluated the evidence and now has a basis for making a determination.  It is only fair to say that two people viewing the same statistics might reach different conclusions.  But, at the least, there is some objective information on which they relied to form their opinion.

An example of “profiling” that we not only permit but endorse is practiced regularly by TSA.  It tends to single out people who appear to be of Middle Eastern origin – and there is reason for this.  It was people of that ethnic background  who we claim were the responsible parties for the events of 9/11.  Based on our experience, they are the most likely people to commit further acts of terrorism.  The sad events at the Boston Marathon support that view.  Is there anyone who fails to see the logic of this or believes that the conclusion to engage in this practice is faulty in its logic or that it is inappropriate?

I recently read some interesting statistics which came from the NYPD.  The city has seen a tremendous reduction in crime since it began profiling individuals and initiating “stop and frisk” measures.  It should be said that more than 90% of those stopped are either black or Latino.  NY Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly makes no bones about his department’s targets for this policy, despite the fact that the Department is being sued over “racial profiling.”

There is a reason that the Department selected this particular demographic to make New York a safer place.  The fact is that, according to the department’s records, 96% of the murder victims in the city are either black or Latino and 97% of the suspects in custody for these murders are either black or Latino.

Those who assume that there is only a racial motivation in these pat downs would probably be right.  But if you look at the statistics, as have the NYPD, do you think it would be productive to pat down 90 year old Mrs. O’Reilly as she returns home from daily Mass?

Much has been written (and this is an excellent example of the faulty logic and the assumptions made by many) about the fact that a disproportionate number of blacks are in jail than their percentage in the general population.  Of course, the assumptive reasoning is that we have an unequal justice system that oppresses our minority black citizens.  What a load of rot.

There are proportionately more blacks in jail because there are proportionately more blacks who commit the crimes that send them there.  And those statistics hold for NY, Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Cleveland, Detroit and a host of other cities that will most likely be scenes of rallies for “justice” for Trayvon Martin on Saturday, July 20, 2013.

That young man’s death was tragic – but perhaps it was inevitable that he might have come to this kind of violent end.  And when you, Mr. President say, “It might have been you,” I believe you are correct.  I have seen the commission of crime in the district that first elected you to office and the demographics are not far different than those in New York.

I have been a victim and I have known other victims in that district.  And the perpetrators were young black men – with or without hoodies – high on drugs or merely out for a good time.  Most of those who are violated by these thugs are black men and women – the overwhelming majority of whom are your constituents.

The fear of young black men is real.  It is real among anyone who has been a victim, anyone who knows a victim and among anyone who has done a little research.  This fear shatters all boundaries of race and color and is held as much by blacks as whites – perhaps even more by the former group.  Would you call our elderly black citizens who are fearful of young black males racists – or realists?

If you want to leave a positive legacy for the country, please stop relying on faulty assumptions and take a look at the facts.  If you do that, you will inevitably come to the conclusion that the cancers of illegitimacy and dependence and illiteracy and unemployment are at the core of the black community’s problems.  And if you do that, you will turn from flowery oration to initiating positive action.

It’s long overdue.

THE REPORT OF THE SENATE COMMITTEE MEETING ON S.H.I.T.

“The Chair recognizes Senator Fogbottom.”

“Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee and Honored Guests.”

“Today I am pleased to report on the exceptional progress that we have made in implementing the ‘Sub-dermal High Intensity Transformer and Behavior Modification Device’ program, commonly referred to as “S. H. I. T.”

“In the five years since we began implanting these devices in Americans, not only have we been able to employ 287,450 loyal progressives in the “Department of S. H. I. T.,” but we have monitored over 969,866,437,012,554,000,000,000,000,000 thoughts that the recipients of these devices have ideated.”

“Furthermore, we have zapped over 189,364,881 Americans who, at one time or another after installation of the device had a racist thought, a sexist thought, a homophobic thought, an anti-Islamic thought or an anti-government thought, to cite only a few of the 399 unacceptable areas of thought that your government monitors.  This program deserves to be viewed as an incredible success.”

“There is no question that the number of offensive slurs that have been uttered since the S. H. I. T. program was started have been reduced dramatically.  With the absence of news media coverage of these offensive infractions, that has given this country a greatly expanded amount of time in which they may devote themselves to viewing the 587 new Reality TV shows that have been created.”

“Furthermore, with the program’s built-in self destruct program, after the twenty-fifth offensive thought, as you know, the owner receives a lethal dose of voltage that destroys his or her brain and terminates him.  This has proven to be an exceptional boon in two regards.  We have finally figured out a way to reduce the number of unemployed people and the funeral industry is seeing the greatest boom in its history.  I need not even mention to you how this also has had a beneficial impact on ‘Global Warming.’”

“As with any program, there are always a few minor glitches.  But I assure you that the good that the program generates far outweigh these.  Nevertheless, I am here today not only to offer my report but to offer a bill which will alleviate one of the most major negative consequences of the S. H. I. T. program.”

“You see, with the extreme reduction in the number of complaints of ‘hateful statements’ and the consequent reduction in the number of law suits being filed, it appears that our attorney population is having a tough time making ends meet.  And so I am proposing today that we establish a new Department – the “Department of Comprehensive Retraining for Attorney Professionals” which will be more familiarly known as ‘C. R. A.P.’”

“As you know, many attorneys when not occupied chasing ambulances, join their colleague judges on the golf course.  So this provides a very natural and easy transition for them into the world of golf course maintenance.  They already know the terrain – so now all they have to do is be trained in how to work productively – for some of them for the first time in their lives.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, by introducing C. R. A. P. into the S. H. I. T. program, we will have done the greatest service since what’s his name led that Revolution thing a few hundred years ago.  We will truly have made America safe for our visionary form of democracy.  I S. H. I. T. you not – that’s no C. R. A. P.”

“Thank you for your kind attention.  I look forward to your comments and questions.”

RICHARD HAYES SPEAKS (AND WE SHOULD LISTEN)

Perhaps the name Richard Hayes doesn’t ring a bell with you.  No doubt in the next few days that will change.  Mr. Hayes is a Sanitary Engineer (garbage collector) who apparently works on the route that includes Mitt Romney’s house in San Diego.

AFSCME (the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) has produced a new attack ad featuring this gentlemen.  The copy reads:

“My name is Richard Hayes, and I pick up Mitt Romney’s trash.  We’re kind of like the invisible people, you know. He doesn’t realize, you know, that the service we provide, you know, if it wasn’t for us, you know, it would be a big health issue, us not picking up trash.”

“Picking up 15, 16 tons by hand, you know that takes a toll on your body.  When I’m 55, 60 years old, I know my body’s going to be break down. Mitt Romney doesn’t care about that.”

I’m not quite sure what the thinking was that AFSCME employed in creating this ad using one of their members.  I know that the going rate for salaries for people in Mr. Hayes’ profession range nationally between about $35,000 – $55,000 per year, depending on the area.  So Mr. Hayes would be required under Federal Law to file an income tax return and presumably pay some amount of Federal Tax to the Treasury.  Thus, he is one of the 53%  – not the 47% that Mr. Romney described as “committed to voting for the President,” – although I think that might well be his intent.

Perhaps we’ll find a little more about their thinking later as there are apparently two additional ads which are forthcoming – I presume with the same theme.  And what is that theme?  Mitt Romney is an insensitive, uncaring SOB who is out to rape the poor of the last dime of their entitlement dollars.

In truth, I wouldn’t want Mr. Hayes’ job if it paid three times the amount he earns performing his duties.  And I probably don’t have the physique to be able to discharge his responsibilities in a satisfactory manner.  I believe he makes a valid point about the potential health threat if he and his fellows were to walk off the job.  In fact, it was exactly for reasons of public safety that Sanitary Engineers in several major cities were ordered to cease and desist from the strikes on which they embarked during the last several decades.  On this point he is absolutely correct.

Furthermore, I believe his statement about having a broken body when he is older is also probably true, unfortunately.  We have seen the relatively short professional life spans of NFL players due to on-the-job related injuries, including brain traumas.  At least pro football players receive significant compensation for risking their bodies and their futures – a risk that I’m sure they evaluated before they made the decision to play the game.

Perhaps it is ironic but today, when I first saw this ad, it happened to be one of the semi-weekly garbage collection days in my neighborhood.  What is more ironic is that I actually had something at the curb to be picked up.  I had managed to accumulate one half of a medium-sized garbage can and had it out and waiting for the crew.  That was the first time I had placed any refuse outside in five pick ups.

I work diligently to buy things with minimum packaging and to recycle and compost as much as I possibly can – for environmental reasons.  The fact that this makes life easier for Mr. Hayes’ fellow Sanitary Engineers here in Las Vegas is a definite plus.  To me they are not invisible – as I always remember them with some homemade preserves during the Holidays and frequently offer them a cold beverage in the summer heat.

But let’s return to the point of the commercial – that Mr. Romney must be a hard-hearted and uncaring person because he doesn’t have an intimate relationship with those who provide scavenger service at his various residences.

Is there any reasonable person out there who believes that Madonna, Warren Buffett, Lady Gaga, Tiger Woods, Lee Saunders (the President of AFSCME who just won election over a reform candidate who pledged to reduce the salaries of the union’s top honchos), or Presidents Clinton or Obama are on a first name basis with those who provide the same service to them?  Let’s get real people.  I doubt that any of those I have named even knows when their garbage is collected.

However, despite the main thrust of the ad at disparaging Mr. Romney, there is an important lesson to be learned from it.  That is with regard to Mr. Hayes and all the others whom he believes have been “dismissed” by Mr. Romney.

If you’ve been a reader for several months you may remember that at one point in my life I had my own executive search and temporary help business.  The search business dealt with mid to upper management white collar individuals and the primary focus of the temp business was on support staff for people who held mid-level corporate positions.

Although I would be hard pressed to document it, I am guessing that during my twenty-six years in that business, I interviewed no less than ten thousand people, both for our clients and for my own staff.  After the first thousand or so, if I say so myself, I became pretty good at interviewing.

Now, if I as an interviewer were to review Mr. Hayes’ statement (transcribed exactly as it appeared on Yahoo News) as his introduction to our firm, I would give him the courtesy of a cursory interview, because I believe that we ought always to be courteous, but I would never have considered him for any positions which we had available.  I would probably have recommended that he would have better opportunities if he were to apply to a firm specializing in people who had greater numbers of job openings for which he might qualify – a firm such as Manpower or other day labor temporary help agencies.

This would not have been a dismissal of Mr. Hayes as a human being.  Rather, it would be a realization that the gentleman had either received or chosen to accept only a very limited and probably not very good education.  His speech told me that without needing to review his application.  I know because I have taken my time to interview many Mr. Hayes’ – and if I doubted that assessment I would only have had to look at their applications to confirm my conclusions.  I guarantee that basic words which we use every day would have been misspelled and that the handwriting would have been difficult to read.  I’ve seen it hundreds of times.

Does that make Mr. Hayes an “unimportant” human being?  I don’t believe that any of us has the right to make that sort of assertion about anyone.  But it does make him a poorly educated one – a man with few employable skills.  That is most likely the reason that he is doing the work he is doing – not because Mitt Romney “looks down on him” or has “dismissed” him.

There is a lesson we should all take from Mr. Hayes and all the other Mr. and Ms. Hayes’ in America.

Fundamental to our problems in America is that the quality of education for which we were once renowned has fallen – and it’s fallen dramatically.

We are willing to give movie stars and professional athletes millions of dollars a year to entertain us, paying them directly through the money we spend on tickets.  But we are not willing to recognize those gifted teachers who are educating the next generation by offering them incentive raises based on the quality of the work they provide.  That is because we apparently, as a nation, consider entertainment far more vital than education.  Could this be one of the reasons that so many American jobs have moved overseas to be done by workers who were better educated than our own?

I think that Mr. Romney is too much of a gentleman to “retaliate” with a similarly negative ad to the ones that AFSCME has produced.  But I can’t help but wonder what someone riding the garbage truck that services the White House would have to say to him, should he encounter President Obama.  That is, if the President weren’t attending to important matters of state on the golf course.

ON LANGUAGE

I recently commented on a post by one of my favorite bloggers on Word Press, Sylver Blaque.  She and I normally find ourselves in agreement but in the case of this particular post regarding requiring English as a language for all people who live in this country, we disagreed.

I supported the idea and would like to explain my rationale.

In my very early posts I often spoke of my grandmother who came to the United States at the age of 9 and spoke no English.  Thanks to her aunt and a dictionary she learned the language.  She received no formal education as she had to work to support herself and contribute to her aunt and uncle who provided her food and lodging.  This was not unusual for the immigrants who came here at the turn of the 20th century.

In a recent post https://juwannadoright.wordpress.com/2012/07/21/be-afraidbe-very-afraid/, I addressed the requirements we hold for those who have immigrated to the United States and mentioned that one of the requirements to be accepted for citizenship is that these resident aliens must pass a test about how the government is structured and who is currently serving in public office.

It is interesting that at a time when we are becoming more “inclusive” in terms of allowing people to be informed about matters of public interest in languages with which they may be more conversant, it is a requirement that this test is given in English and only in English.

Apparently, on the one hand, the Federal government recognizes the importance of learning English – even as other authorities including the Department of Justice, require that we disseminate information to those who live here, whose primary language is not English, in their native language.

Several months ago, Nevada conducted a primary election.  Prior to this I received a booklet which detailed the offices which were being contested and the candidates for those offices.  This booklet was printed in both English and Spanish.

As I read the booklet I noticed the following notification, “Clark County has been informed by the DOJ that in the future all election booklets shall be printed in English, Spanish and Tagalog (to accommodate our Filipino voters).  Those who would like to receive this booklet in Tagalog may call xxx-xxxx to receive a copy.”

I have an objection to this on two levels.  The first is environmental.  We are now using twice as much paper as if these booklets were prepared only in English and we will soon expand that to three times as much paper.

The second relates to the level of information and knowledge to which the electorate will have access if they do not speak English.  As voting is one of the most fundamental rights and responsibilities we have as citizens, does it not make sense that we should understand and be able to listen to those who are running for office if we are to make an informed decision on who has the best vision for the future of America?

I know for a fact that the Presidential and Vice-Presidential debates will be broadcast in the language of those who are running – and that is English – not
Spanish or Tagalog.  So if a person cannot understand those debates and what the candidates are saying, how can they make an informed decision about who is worthy of their vote?

As Americans ventured abroad, travelling in Europe in the last century, we coined the term, “Ugly Americans” to describe those who were disdainful of our European friends who didn’t speak English.  We expected them to speak  our language.  We considered that our presumptive right.

How foolish – but these were only visitors in foreign lands.  I believe that had some of these decided to relocate to Aix-en-Provence or Venezia, they would have learned French or Italian in order to converse with the locals.

Is it unreasonable to expect less of those who have come to live in America – to learn our official language, English?  It was good enough for the immigrants of the last century and I have to say that seems like a reasonable requirement to me.

THE CHINESE LAUNDRY

Mrs. Lee owned the little laundry a block and a half from my apartment that I used to take care of my garments.  Every Saturday at noon I would bring the stuff that I had soiled that week in and would pick up the previous week’s newly cleaned clothes.  Mrs. Lee always had my clothing ready for me.

I tried practicing my limited Mandarin with her – but discovered that she only spoke Cantonese.  But I did know enough Cantonese to count to ten.  (That and being able to say Happy New Year was the extent of my knowledge of her dialect.)  I think it amused her that I was trying to speak her native tongue.

Anyway, she took great care of me and learning my schedule would always have my little bundle of clothing ready and my dry-cleaning right at the front of the store so that I didn’t have to wait for her to find them among all the piles of freshly cleaned laundry that filled the store.  By this time I had been a customer for five years.

After my father died I did not go into the laundry for three weeks.  The first two of these were spent taking care of the arrangements for dad, then a week in New York to get my mother settled in and to make sure that she was doing okay.  Then I decided that spending time with Finney my Irish Setter who had spent all this time in a kennel was more important than having clean clothes.

But I got back on schedule and the following Saturday I arrived at my usual noon time to get the laundry and dry cleaning which had languished in Mrs. Lee’s laundry during my absence.

As I went in the door Mrs. Lee excitedly lifted the wood slat in the counter that allowed her access to the working part of the store.  She rushed over and gave me a big hug and said, “We missee you.  Where you been?”

I told her that my father had died and that I was trying to get my mother settled after the loss that we both had suffered.  I remember that my eyes welled up with tears as I explained this to her.  Mrs. Lee began to cry.

She looked at me and said, “You an orphan.  Mustee take care you don’t go hungry.  You waitee here.”

She went in the back of the store and I could hear the that she had turned on her stovetop.  As I waited I rested my laundry on the counter and I could hear the hissing, splashing sound that is made when food is added to the hot oil in a wok.

After about five minutes, Mrs. Lee returned to the front of the store carrying a typical white Chinese restaurant-style carry out container.  She placed this in a small paper bag and said, “You eat.  You not go hungry.”  She had made me a meal of stir-fry chicken, onions and snow pea pods.  I didn’t know what to say other than, “Thank you.”  I gave her a hug and took my clothes and her meal home.

As I thought about it on my short walk home I realized how special this lady was in trying to do what she could to assuage my loss.  Our only interaction was my weekly visit to drop off and pick up my cleaning.  We really were little more than strangers – or at the most acquaintances.

The following week I went to Mrs. Lee’s laundry per my usual schedule, my arms loaded with an unusually large number of garments.  I walked in and she greeted me as usual as I dropped my big load on her counter.  She did the count on all the garments and wrote up my tickets.  I reached in my pocket and handed her the claim checks for the previous week’s load.

As usual Mrs. Lee had my garments ready for my pickup at the front of the store.  I laid out the money to pay for them which she took and then came to the counter with my garments.  She also handed me another little brown paper bag which contained another carryout container of food that she had prepared for me.

Until she returned to Canton three years later to help her ailing brother who was dying, every Saturday that I went in to Mrs. Lee’s little laundry she always had my laundry ready for me – as well as her little carryout box so that “I didn’t go hungry.”

Mrs. Lee was a very sweet lady – and I miss her.  But it gives me hope that there are still some kind and caring people who roam the face of planet earth.  I hope one day to be considered one of them.

OOPS!

For about a six month period I recorded books for the use of college students who were blind.  While this was volunteer work, I was given a test to see how my voice recorded and to determine whether my diction was clear before I was accepted into the program.  Apparently I passed.  This was back in the days when what you said and how you said it actually mattered.

My grandmother who came to America at age nine and spoke no English always said that her new language was far more complicated than her native Czech.  In Czech a letter was always pronounced the same way – always.  Compare that to English where “f” and “ph” frequently have the same pronunciation  or “c” can be hard or soft. just to give you two quick examples of how confusing it can be.

As goofy as English is, I think we must certainly take our hats off to the French who have elevated linguistic confusion to an art form.  I remember beginning French and we started out learning the conjugation of the verbs “to be” and “to have.”  Our teacher told us that these were “irregular” verbs.  Although I understood the importance of these two verbs  – my experience with French was that most of it was pretty irregular.

Then we encountered the “dipthongs” where we would combine two perfectly innocent letters and make them sound like something that had no relation to either of the letters when pronounced individually.

If that weren’t enough, the French had this way of genderizing nouns.  Sometimes words that seemed obviously “masculine” were “feminine” and other words which seemed very “feminine” were “masculine.”  Can you say gender conflict? 

Years later I heard the joke, “How many Frenchmen does it take to successfully defend Paris from invasion?”  The answer, “Nobody knows.  It’s never happened.”  I surmised that the Parisians were busy trying to communicate with each other when the city was overrun.

Nevertheless, this is not meant to be an attack on my wonderful French friends or their countrymen but merely an introduction to how my attempts to speak their language got me in trouble.

When dad and I were in Paris we found a little restaurant that only had a few tables where we ate dinner two nights.  It was run by a family.  The mother served as hostess, the two teenage children served as busboy and waitress and papa was the chef.  It was a delightful place and these were very warm and welcoming people.

I remember that first night I wasn’t particularly hungry and ordered the “artichaut vinaigrette” hoping that the artichoke would be large enough that I could make a meal of it.  Indeed it was, but it was so good that I ordered a second one.  I was stuffed.

Mama came over and asked if we would care for anything else.  In my best French I said, “Non, merci.  Nous sommes plein.”  (No, thanks.  We’re full).  She laughed and left the table – but she sent out papa from the kitchen to ask us the same thing.  He also laughed and said that he hoped dad and I had enjoyed our dinner.

We returned to the restaurant two nights later and at the meal’s conclusion the same scene occurred, mother asking us if we wanted anything else.  I made the same response.  As before she laughed.  Then papa came from the kitchen to ask if we enjoyed our meal and would care for anything else.  He smiled broadly and also laughed and that night the kids got in the act as well.  I couldn’t figure this out.

About a month after my return to New York I happened to run into my French teacher, Mme. Rossant.  She knew that I was going to Europe and asked how I had enjoyed the trip.  As I was describing the adventure, I brought up the episode in the little family restaurant in Paris.

She asked me exactly how I had responded to the question, “Would you like anything else?”  I repeated my words, “Non merci, nous sommes plein.”  She also laughed.  She then explained that was an idiomatic expression which meant, “We are pregnant.”  OOPS!

We’ve made great strides in simplifying language worldwide.  We no longer have to worry about irregular verbs and dipthongs and genders of nouns since we now talk in abbreviations and acronyms.  This should help all of us from mangling a foreign language as I did.  But I have one further suggestion that might be helpful.

For years there have been those who felt that if all humanity spoke the same language it would break down the barriers that separate us.  That proposed language is Esperanto.  But in a highly-technological age I believe we are ready to go even further.

I think we should all learn to speak and communicate in binary code.  And now I’m going to see if I can find a binary dictionary and check for the proper pronunciation for “OOPS!”

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