Esperanto
Author: David Poulson


A Digression and Progression

Author: David Poulson
Published on:July 17, 1998

When Zamenhof discovered that Modern English didn't possess a grammar, that nouns didn't decline, weren't divided into three categories of masculine, feminine and neuter, that verbs didn't conjugate or group themselves into "strong and weak", or "regular and irregular," he was very excited. English had hardly any case endings and its verbs were simpler than those of any other language he had previously studied. All the very difficult grammatical complexities of Old English had just been completely abandoned. Not needed!

Could English be the international language he was looking for? How many times have I been asked this same, sensible question!

Many times! So, for a change, instead of giving a sensible answer, here is my utterly untruthful account of why Zamenhof found English unsuitable.


One evening, a tired young man put aside the textbook he had been studying (its title was English in 30 days) and plodded into the kitchen for a cool drink of water. Seeing a glass already full, he drank it greedily and made his way back to his work table, whereupon his overtired brain began to spin like a top! The glass had contained 100% proof vodka!

In a semi-drunken delirium, Zamenhof snatched up pen and paper, threw the textbook into a corner, and began to write at top speed.

IN ENGLISH YOU WRITE MANCHESTER AND PRONOUNCE IT LIVERPOOL!

I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough.
Others may stumble, but not you
On hiccough, thorough, slough and through.
Well done! And now you wish, perhaps,
To learn of less familiar traps?

Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard and sounds like bird;
And dead: it's said like bed not bead -
For goodness sake don't call it deed!
Watch out for meat and great and threat.
(They rhyme with suite and straight and debt)
.

And here is not a match for there
Nor dear and fear for bear and pear.
And then there's dose and rose and lose -
Just look them up - and goose and chose.

There's cork and work and card and ward
And font and front and word and sword,
And do and go and thwart and cart -
You know, I've hardly made a start!
A difficult language? Man alive!
I could speak it when only five.
(But can I write it? I've really tried,
But still have problems - at fifty-five!)

Zamenhof stopped. He wasn't fifty-five, only fifteen, but with his head reeling he felt fifty-five. He dropped his pen, as questions rushed into his head faster than he could write them down. Later on he remembered some of them, recorded them for posterity, and here they are.

"Why is it that a writer writes but fingers don't fing, grocers don't groce, humdingers don't hum and hammers don't ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, shouldn't the plural of booth be beeth? One goose, two geese - so one moose two meese? One index, two indices - one Kleenex, two Kleenices?

And why can you make amends but not just one amend, that you comb through the annals of history but not just one annal? If you have a drawer filled with odds and ends and you empty it out - except for just one thing - what do you call the odd item you've ended up with?

Why can you be taught by a teacher but not praught by a preacher? A vegetarian eats vegetables but a humanitarian doesn't eat humans. Why can't we say that a man wrote a letter about a dog which bote him?

Have you ever pondered the fact that English people drive on parkways and park on driveways? Recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship orders by truck and send "cargo" by ship? Why do dirty little boys have noses that run while dirty old men have feet that smell?

And why is it, on a dark night, that when the stars are out they are visible but when the lights are out they are invisible?"

Zamenhof clutched both his head and his pen at the same time. It was too much! These were questions which would make a Zen Master flinch! Turning once more to his doggerel, the words flowed even faster than before.

This phonetic labyrinth
Gives moss, gross, brook, brooch, ninth and plinth;
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like would and should.
Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation's OK
When you say, correctly, croquet.

Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.
Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
They say hallowed but allowed,
People, leopard, towed but vowed.

Mark the difference, moreover.
Between mover, plover, Dover.
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise.
Chalice, but police and lice.
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.
Petal, penal and canal,
Wait surmise, plait, promise, pal.

Finally, which rhymes with enough -
Though, through, plough, cough, chough or tough?
Hiccough has the sound of "cup".
My advice is: give it up.

Zamenhof wrote one final sentence: "English is the easiest language in the world to learn - BADLY!" and tottered off to bed. But in the morning, going for a walk to clear his head, something very important happened.

(And this part of the story really did take place.)

the story really did take place.)

As Zamenhof told it:

"I happened to notice the sign SHVEYTSARSKAYA (porter's lodge - place of the porter) and then I noticed the sign KONDITORSKAYA (confectioner's shop - place of sweets... suddenly I felt my feet on firm ground. A ray of light fell upon those huge, terrifying dictionaries and they began to dwindle rapidly before my eyes."

Now Zamenhof knew exactly what he had to do and he went ahead and did it! Next week, I'll tell you more about that, and also about the first of many unsuccessful attempts to suppress Esperanto.

(Note: I wish I could take the credit - or blame! - for all of the verse and worse written here. But truth will out: most of it was written by that remarkable writer: A. Nonny Mouse.)

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