Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Woeful Inadequacy of English Pronouns

How you going to keep them down on the farm, or in the southwestern corner of Dutchess County (The County That Can’t Spell Duchess) after they’ve seen Portsmouth and Concord, New Hampshire? That was the question we had no choice but to confront last wek, as the reality of being back in Beacon sank in ever more deeply. There’d been talk of our taking the train down to Manhattan, but I needed to amend some work I did last week for a client in the business of trying to make it easier for Indian students to adjust to American college life, and then had an opportunity to advise my old friend Karl on his ongoing exchange of poison-pen emails with his housemate.
It’s my perception that Karl enjoys a fierce argument more than he’d probably hasten to admit — that he derives considerable pleasure from composing eloquent demolitions of his opponents' arguments. I always believed that, had country music not called him, he’d have made a very successful trial lawyer. In this case, though — bickering with his housemate about his housemate’s intention to make his girlfriend a de facto member of the household — it seemed to me that Karl was effectively shooting himself in the foot; however pleasurable it was to mock Housemate, to point out his multiple small hypocrisies and misrepresentations, he still had at the end of the day to keep living with the bastard.

(Re-reading the foregoing paragraph, noting the ambiguity that he, him, and his engender, I’m struck once more by the woeful insufficiency of English pronouns. But have I ever done more about it other than bitch ‘n’ moan? Well, by gum, today I tolerate no more! Let’s see if my referring to the first-mentioned of the two males in the account, Karl, with the traditional pronouns, but using te, tim, and tis for his housemate doesn’t make things more lucid.

…bickering with his housemate about tis intention to make tis girlfriend a de facto member of the household...However pleasurable it was to mock Housemate, to point out tis multiple small hypocrisies and misrepresentaitons, he still had at the end of the day to keep living with tim.

My country, ‘tis of thee.

In any event, the gratifying part was that Karl didn’t get defensive in the face of my mild scolding. It felt grand to have my counsel valued, and to think I might have done a friend some good.

Lunchtime brought more small pleasure. My house has a sort of mezzanine, from which one may view the living room. I hope one day to be able to play Pope, to invite enough friends and friends of friends over to fill the ground floor, and then to step into view on the mezzanine to rapturous applause. (The facts of my being reclusive and misanthropic might preclude this, but one can dream.) In any event, I have always enjoyed peeking down at Claire while she enjoys her lunch in front of the living room television. Her realizing with a start that she’s being watched never fails to amuse me; my inner two-year-old may be considerably nearer the surface than others'.

Then it was over to the gym. Before we got on the bridge, I turned on Accidental Billionaires, but the scene in which the Winklevosses, for whom Mark Zuckerberg had ostensibly been working, took their grievances to the president of Harvard was even more unlistenable than a lot of earlier ones. While Claire entrusted the blow-drying of her hair to strangers, I went over to Planet Fitness and continued reading Scott Spencer’s Man in the Woods while pedaling my way to fitness. Back home, we had our traditional late afternoon Long March, and then enjoyed leftovers from Sunday night’s roasted vegetable dinner. Twenty-four hours in the fridge had only made everything more delicious. We caught up on Boardwalk Empire, whose production design I like more than anything else about it, and Mad Men, whose season finale I found wanting, except for the wonderful moment in which that asshole Roger told Megan to go fetch ice so everyone could celebrate her engagement to Don. I didn’t think he was joking either!

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