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

Sunday, September 05, 2004 :::
Events in Russia have inspired somber thoughts, thoughts which are closely related to the moving experience of visiting the stunning World War II memorial with his war hero father. Those thoughts are hanging about, waiting for the moment when they must come out, and that will probably be on Labor Day.

But on a quiet Sunday afternoon a certain pudgy, balding English teacher is actually going to offer up a far lighter thought, though it is not unimportant.

As he spends nearly every waking hour with people who are racially and culturally different from himself, he has long since learned the importance of getting a person's name right. In fact, if one is managing a large group of people, getting names right is often half the battle, and management is battle, make no mistake there.

Now, it came about that towards the end of his recent stay at a certain red-tile-roofed university on the West Coast, he ran into a group of simply marvellous lads from the storied City College of New York, staying on an upper floor of the dorm where he was himself was ensconced. They were, as seemingly all City College students have been, immigrants, and they were, as seemingly all City College grads have been, stunningly brilliant. Engineers, one and all, there for a conference. A couple of nights of billiards, combined with impromptu grad school counseling, and we had all become the best of friends. We parted with many promises of keeping in touch.

So of course A Mind That Suits, in a fit of English teacher-y abstraction, misplaced their e-mail addresses. As they were probably a little shy about initiating the hearty back-and-forth, things kind of lagged until he actually started sorting throught the pile of papers acquired on that trip and found the list.

On the evidence, brilliant immigrants also have bad handwriting, so it took a little guesswork, but A Mind That Suits won through, he thinks, and got the e-mails out. At least nothing has been bounced back as undeliverable.

(This doesn't mean that much, by the way. He once sent a list of house puchases to a new housemate at "duffduncan@," only to find out that his new housemate was named "Duff Davis." But the e-mail never came back. So somebody named Duff Duncan got a shopping list, although he did not deliver the goods to the right address, the slacker. But this is a digression.)

One brilliant CCNY lad who did not have sloppy handwriting was a most impressive Russian-speaking Moldovan named Dmitry. Moldova is a tiny former Soviet Republic that lies between Romania and Ukraine. The majority language is Romanian, which is a Latin language closely related to Italian. Most of you can probably stop reading right there, as that will be your "well, I'll be" fact for the day. Forget names: if you want to score points with a Romanian speaker, volunteer that you know it's a Romance language.

It is notably influenced by Slavic languages, and the pronunciation is different from its cousins, but you had best be careful how you point that out. A friend of A Mind That Suits--in fact, his favorite bartender--delighted in getting A Mind That Suits in hot water with said bar-tender's girlfriend, a Romanian, by deliberately misrepresenting what he had said about the Slavic influence on Romanian. She was...well, annoyed.

That is all beside the point, because Dmitry is Russian-speaking. Now, please note the last letter of his name. The Slavic alphabet has no letter that corresponds exactly to our "y." The Slavic letter that is shaped like our "y" is actually pronounced "oooo," like a "u" with out the "y-sound" at the beginning. The name Dmitry is spelled with a letter that sounds like "y" at the end of a word, but looks like a capital "N" flipped round backwards. (A Mind That Suits is surprised to find out that his keyboard has no Slavic alphabet, otherwise he'd show you.) In any case, it is all the same if you transliterate the name as "Dmitri" or "Dmitry." They're both pronounced in a way close to the Russian, and that is all that matters.

Most people use "i" at the end, for whatever reason. But not new, young friend Dmitry. He responded quickly to the email from a certain pudgy, balding English teacher--perhaps because his neat handwriting ensured that it got to him--and, as a P.S., he very gently and very politely pointed out that his name ended with a "y."

Now, A Mind That Suits was mortified. He simply does not like to make mistakes with names. If it is "Dmitry" it should be "Dmitry," plain and simple. And so he promised never to make such a mistake again.

What is interesting is that A Mind That Suits has been honored to get e-mails from one of his absolutelly favorite writers, someone than whom it is not possible to be more accurately described as Neo-Con. Said prominent neo-con is one very pleasant fellow, though he does manage to slip the barbs in when he wants to, and he is far too tolerant of e-mails from English teachers. A Mind That Suits has to exercise his own self-restraint, because he knows it is tiring.

But what is interesting is that, since he himself was but a lad, he has heard conservatives who want to show how in-the-know they are by quoting lunch conversations with "Mike." It's always "Mike."

Except he always signs his e-mails "Michael."

Friend "Michael" is in his eighth decade, although he doesn't seem to be slowing down, and young friend Dmitry is entering his third and filled with the excitement of embarking on life, but they have this in common with A Mind That Suits who is---well, somewhere in between young Dmitry and young-acting Michael.

In short, they like to be called by their proper names. A Mind That Suits decided that when he was but a slip of a lad who had seen only five summers, after his mother explained to him the difference between "Kenny" and "Kenneth." When he set off to college, he decided to unbend a little and said on some form that either "Ken" or "Kenneth" was acceptable, which meant of course that his name was posted as "Ken." Two days of that was enough to make him scream, but it took him perhaps 6 months to launder "Ken" out of the dorm conversation.

And how long has "Michael" been having lunch with all those conservatives who just can't wait to pass on what their friend "Mike" said? And how long has Dmitry been putting up with that "i?"

Kenneth is an odd enough name--he has met only three or four others, everyone else going by Ken--that he doesn't get anywhere near as much grief as friend Michael. Except that he thinks not a single member of his family has noticed in...well, all the years he's lived minus five. Not one. He believes it was C.S. Lewis who pointed out that family members can say something that sounds completely innocuous to outsiders but drives other family members to distraction or worse.

While we are on matters linguistic, A Mind That Suits notes with sadness the final passing of enormity. It's still around, but more than one conservative writer has, in recent weeks, used it to mean "great size." It does not, or did not, mean that. It means, or meant, "great evil." But not anymore. A quick check of the dictionary revealed that enormousness, the word he would have thought meant "great size," also meant "great evil" originally, although that meaning is now listed as "archaic." As went enormousness, so goes enormity. Pity: a very useful word has become just another word. But the world is not, alas, free of its great evils.

Which brings us back to Russia, and World War II, but that must wait until tomorrow.

::: posted by A Mind That Suits at 6:09 PM



Post a Comment


A Related Website on Christian Spirituality
The Fullness of Him
The Easiest Way to Keep Up With the News:
Best of the Web
Links to Web Friends
One Good Turn
A Dog's Life
Power Line
Rambles and By-ways

What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.

Powered by Blogger