A Mind That Suits What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.

Sunday, November 23, 2003 :::
When in Rome...Showing You're Educated by Speaking Incorrectly...

First a note:
Friend Eddie over at One Good Turn has asked a very interesting question: the virtue of the American way is that it spurns "system." In other words, we do most things ad hoc, which, when A Mind That Suits was a boy, was called "good old American know-how." And this is true. So why is it therefore a criticism of Donald Rumsfeld that America did not have a "plan" for the administration of Iraq? (A Mind That Suits spurns the word "occupation." That is what the French, Germans, Russians, and Chinese perpetrated under Saddam Hussein.) This is not an idle question, and A Mind That Suits will actually turn to it systematically come Monday.

That's "goat cheese," thank you very much.

There is a cheap way to seem educated, and that is to accept the accepted bad pronuciations of foreign languages. The most obvious example is "Nicaragua," which radicals love to mispronounce as "Neekaragwa." Mispronounce, because that is neither English pronunciation nor Spanish. A Mind That Suits supervises a lot of Spanish speakers, and not a single one of them has ever pronounced Nicaragua that way. As the most important moral aspect of language is communicating, when speaking English, you should use English pronunciation, and when speaking Spanish, Spanish pronunciation. You should never speak in a way that says, "I know more that you do. Bow down before me." A Mind That Suits admits that he finds it hard to say "Wagner" when speaking of "Vahgner," the composer, but in general, he is punctilious in his observance of this rule.

The fact is, A Mind That Suits is an able musician, and language is musical. And he has been complimented on his pronunciation by French, Spanish, and Italian speakers. As one student of his, a French hairdresser no less, once said: "Sometimes we are not able to tell that you are not French."

French people do not say this freely.

A Mind That Suits has since heard himself recorded speaking French, and he has to admit that his nasal sounds are seriously off. But the French "r" he has down.

Which brings up "goat cheese." When A Mind That Suits was a waiter in fine dining establishments, goat cheese was just becoming popular in this country. (This was some time ago.) And he worked for a master chef who self-consciously used all-American ingredients, including home grown goat cheese. When A Mind That Suits told customers in this most pretentious of cities that the night's specials included a "goat cheese salad," the assembled illuminati would invariably say that they wanted the "shevvv" salad, by which they meant the "chevre" salad, using the French word for "goat." The trick is, one is supposed to pronounce the "re" in French, only Frenchly. When writing in the food columns of the New York Times, one cannot render "chevre" accurately because English does not use "re" the way that French people do. So New York Times writers write "shevvv" as a guide to pronunciation, and they are totally wrong.

A Mind That Suits--who handles the "e" at the end of French words with savoir faire, and elan--understands this, but in order to get the tip, would blandly say "yes, sir" to the pretensions of DC's elite. Just as he would get a "SamuelAdams" for them. The man after whom the beer was named signed the Declaration of Independence as "Sam," which is how the makers of the beer say his name, but if one wants the tip one smiles pleasantly at those who mis-say his name as "Samuel," with that little pause and nod intended to show the waiter he does not know the name of the beer. Most annoying.

These thoughts came bubbling up while A Mind That Suits worked on Italian vocabulary pending his upcoming Christmas in that most glorious city, Rome. In Italian (by which one means "Tuscan") one is supposed to say double consonants, as found in "trattoria." A Mind That Suits, who has spent many long weeks of pure joy in that most ancient of Western lands, admits that he cannot do it at all. He cannot double a consonant, as in "salsiccia" (sausage), where one is supposed to pronounce "cc" as two ci's. "sahl-chi-chi-a."A Mind That Suits cannot, after quite a few years of trying, which is why he looks ratherly blandly at people who insist on saying "shevv" rather than "goat cheese."

::: posted by A Mind That Suits at 12:03 PM



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