The Importance of Prepositions

Apr. 27 - It's the last shopping day before Saddam Hussein's birthday!

Monday was a banner day at Studieskolen. We learned that our big test would be emphasizing spoken Danish and Teacher explained that she would therefore begin emphasizing that aspect of our lessons.

I was feeling pretty good about myself, for a Monday. I was even feeling a little smug because a lot of the students were struggling to grasp the difference between tale and fortælle, which I understood plainly as "talk" and "tell," respectively. I leaned back, relaxed, and pitied them their difficulties.

It would be nice to learn Danish for "pride goeth before a fall."

Since we're in the middle of a section dealing with medical situations ("I have a toothache," "I get dizzy when I work at my computer," "It hurts when I go to the toilet"), we were asked to share our local healthcare experiences with the class—a good exercise of our spoken Danish skills.

(Although you have to admit it was fraught with peril: our most recent vocabulary lessons have been stressing the scatalogical.)

And so we learned how Ireland spent four days in the hospital after (improperly) preparing a chicken dinner for a big dinner party; how America and her Danish fiance had attempted to bamboozle the system before she was eligible by having him call the emergency night line and present with her symptoms; and how Japan had wrangled a doctor for skin and eye problems. For myself, I described the episode of gout that left me barefoot at the altar last summer.

Notable footwear: less is more.

I won't repeat the whole story—I covered it in detail last summer. Furthermore, because I was speaking Danish rather than English I had to trim the whole thing down to seven or eight sentences.

Nothing makes me happier, on ordinary occassions, than to elicit hearty laughter from a roomful of people. But on this occassion I didn't quite get the joke. I wasn't being witty or ironic or anything in Danish: I was explaining how the doctors in the emergency room of Frederiksberg Emergency hospital had handed me a crutch and told me to use it and take all the Ibuprofen and painkillers I needed and that hopefully the pain would subside in time for the wedding. And yet everyone was giggling.

When I was done, it was time for questions.

"How did you get to the hospital?" asked Teacher.

"I rode my bike," I explained, "because you don't need your toes to ride your bike."

The laughter was redoubled.

"Laugh, laugh, laugh," I groused. "I had bad pain, it was very funny."

"No," Teacher said, calming herself down and wiping a tear from her eye. "But you went alone, on your bike?"

"No," I explained. "My wife—not wife yet, fiancee—came with me on her bike."

The classroom exploded into pandemonium—big belly laughs, massive chortles, sides splitting open.

I gave up.

Later, on a break, a few other students and I were discussing our honest feelings about Danish healthcare (we have learned to express nothing but admiration for all things Danish in the classroom). We speak English on our breaks.

"Your story was hilarious, by the way," one said. "Just the image of you guys riding your bikes in your wedding clothes. . . oh my God, it's too funny!"

"We were just in regular clothes," I said.

"I thought you said you were on your way to the wedding?"

It seemed impossible that the story I'd told could have been so wildly misinterpreted, but it helped explain the laughter: everyone visualizing me in my tuxedo, pedaling madly on some wobbly old bike to the emergency room. And then, on top of that, to imagine my bride, in her gown, pedaling alongside me, bouquet in hand—these are great images. They're funny images. But where had they come from?

I've given it some thought, and I think I've identified the source of the problem: I'd used an incorrect pronoun at some point in setting up the timing of story. I'd been trying to say I was especially worried about my foot at the time because of my forthcoming wedding day: I was concerned for the wedding day. Instead I think I said I was especially worried about my foot because it was my wedding day: that is, I was concerned on my wedding day. When you're speaking Danish at the four-year-old-level, it's surprisingly easy to make such a slip. At least it is for me.

It's hard to be proud of having mastered the difference between "talk" and "tell" when I can't even straighten out "for" and "on."

Dagens Ord

The word of the day is, obviously, , meaning "on" (among other things). It should not be confused with for, meaning "for" (among other things).

Birthdays & So On

Ulysses S. Grant would have been 182 today. He shares his birthday with Sheena Easton (1959), Casey Kasem (1932), and Jack Klugman (1922).

It's Saur Revolution Day in Afghanistan, Veterans' Day in Finland, National Resistance Day in Slovenia, Independence Day in Sierra Leone and Togo, Freedom Day in South Africa, and Constitution Day in Yugoslavia.

Happy Tuesday!

© 2004, The Moron's Almanac™

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