29 March 2016

Linguistic humor

This passage comes from Molière's 1670 play, "Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme" :
MONSIEUR JOURDAIN: ... I'm in love with a lady of great quality, and I wish that you would help me write something to her in a little note that I will let fall at her feet...PHILOSOPHY MASTER: Is it verse that you wish to write her?
M.J. : No, no. No verse.
PH. M: Do you want only prose?
M.J. : No, I don't want either prose or verse.
PH. M: It must be one or the other.
M.J. : Why?
PH. M: Because, sir, there is no other way to express oneself than with prose or verse.
M.J. : There is nothing but prose or verse?
PH. M: No, sir, everything that is not prose is verse, and everything that is not verse is prose.
M.J. : And when one speaks, what is that then?
PH. M: Prose.
M.J. : What! When I say, "Nicole, bring me my slippers, and give me my nightcap," that's prose?
PH. M: Yes, Sir.
M.J. : By my faith! For more than forty years I have been speaking prose without knowing anything about it, and I am much obliged to you for having taught me that. 

Voltaire, writing to Catherine the Great: 
"I am not like a lady of the court of Versailles who said 'what a dreadful pity that the bother at the Tower of Babel should have got language all mixed up; but for that, everyone would always have spoken French'."

And this from The Onion:

Clinton Deploys Vowels to Bosnia

Cities of Sjlbvdnzv, Grzny to Be First Recipients

Before an emergency joint session of Congress yesterday, President Clinton announced US plans to deploy over 75,000 vowels to the war-torn region of Bosnia. The deployment, the largest of its kind in American history, will provide the region with the critically needed letters A,E,I,O and U, and is hoped to render countless Bosnian names more pronounceable. 

"For six years, we have stood by while names like Ygrjvslhv and Tzlynhr and Glrm have been horribly butchered by millions around the world," Clinton said. "Today, the United States must finally stand up and say 'Enough.' It is time the people of Bosnia finally had some vowels in their incomprehensible words...

The deployment, dubbed Operation Vowel Storm by the State Department, is set for early next week, with the Adriatic port cities of Sjlbvdnzv and Grzny slated to be the first recipients...

Citizens of Grzny and Sjlbvdnzv eagerly await the arrival of the vowels. "My God, I do not think we can last another day," Trszg Grzdnjkln, 44, said. "I have six children and none of them has a name that is understandable to me or to anyone else...

Said Sjlbvdnzv resident Grg Hmphrs, 67: "With just a few key letters, I could be George Humphries. This is my dream."

The airdrop represents the largest deployment of any letter to a foreign country since 1984. During the summer of that year, the US shipped 92,000 consonants to Ethiopia, providing cities like Ouaouoaua, Eaoiiuae, and Aao with vital, life-giving supplies of L's, S's and T's.

I found these three anecdotes while skimming through Guy Deutscher's The Unfolding of Language.


  1. I'm glad to see the book delights you as much as it did me!

  2. I just bought the book for my Kindle.

  3. The Onion missed one. Instead of

    "The deployment, dubbed Operation Vowel Storm ..."

    they should have written it as

    "The deployment, dubbed Operation Vowel Movement ..."



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