Wanker’s Latin – The Delightful Sport Of Pub Pedant Baiting and How To Play It
You can’t bait bears any more and you can’t bait badgers either. You can shoot badgers, or gas them to death though. This is because they are a nuisance who give cows Tuberculosis. Presumably by coughing on them.
Never been sure how that works. Cows’ faces are a good five feet further above ground than badgers’ faces, and badgers aren’t particularly good at craning their necks upwards. Still, nature often finds a way in these circumstances. It’s nasty like that, Nature.
No, you can’t do any of the traditional form of animal bloodsports, but you can recreate a kind of facsimile in the relative privacy of your local watering hole. All men like knowing stuff. They particularly like other men thinking they know stuff and then giving them a bloody nose by correcting them. It’s fraught with danger though. As the saying goes : A fool is a man who doesn’t know something you only just found out ten minutes ago.
So you can bait the pub bore. This can be done by setting a trap. Deliberately mention a fact that people believe to be fallacious, but is actually true. Like Hitler only having one ball (his first World War records state this quite clearly). Or that Queen Victoria did marijuana for her period pains (she didn’t smoke it, but she did eat hemp jam on the recommendation of her personal physician).
There are many of these facts and the best source of them is a book called The Pedant’s Revolt. Pick a few and drop them into conversation and sooner or later, you will hook yourself a fish who you can turn the tables on when he corrects you. Bring the book with you on such fishing expeditions and also your mobile phone so you can confirm your victory via the ultimate pub argument referee : The Internet.
Satisfying as these exchanges are, the most satisfying person to catch out is the Grammar Nazi. Consider the following hypothetical situation.
One lovely sunny day, or more likely a wet and miserable one, you might find yourself sitting in the aforementioned pub. And the conversation may flow, as it often does, towards the subject of sport. In a moment of lager fuelled weakness, you drop the word “stadiums” into debate. If this happens, it is fairly likely that someone who thinks he is more knowledgeable than is actually the case will jump in to correct you. It’s a reflex action with these blokes, he won’t skip a heartbeat.
“I think you’ll find,” he will say as his sweaty palm brushes down his Millet’s tank top, “that the plural of stadium is stadia, not stadiums.” He will take great care to stress the AH sound in stadia the UM sound in stadiums. This is the most common example of what Evelyn Waugh rightly christened “Wanker’s Latin”.
It would be easy just to ask him to go home, type both words into his computer and see which one his spell checker does not recognise. Easy but pointless. He would profess not trust his spell checker and would probably embellish his objection with the argument running along the lines of: why should he, when it should be called his spelling checker anyway, syntactically and grammatically speaking? He will also stress the ING sound in the word “spelling” at that point. (Though to be fair, I would sort of agree with him. A Spell Checker sounds like something Harry Potter would have to use in the early part of his career, before he got the hang of the whole Wizarding thing) No, it is far better to counter with the following riposte.
“Yes, if we were sitting in a drinking establishment in ancient Rome and actually speaking Latin, then stadia would indeed be correct. But we are not. We are in a public house in England and communicating in English.”
You will have to raise a restraining hand it this point to silence whatever knee jerk reaction he would be about to send in your direction . Then you will continue.
“We nicked the word stadium fair and square, or rather were handed it by invading legionaries. If some patriarch, my granddad say, temporarily invaded my home and left something useful such as a television there would be certain things I might expect. One of them would not be to have to continue watching Catherine Cookson dramatisations and Gardener’s World on it long after he had departed. Stadium is an English word now and I will pluralize it in an English manner, thank you very much.”
I got the glorious opportunity to use this argument once. A friend, who was of the same opinion, joined in as back up. My friend had the dubious distinction of a Public School Education – English Public School that is, not American – so jointly we saw our opponent off with little difficulty. Seeing that he was out gunned, the offending Latin Wanker sank into a defeated grumbling.
“What do you two think you are, language gurus or something.”
This allowed me to utilize the rarity of Wanker’s Hindi.
“I think you’ll find,” I said, “that the plural of guru is gurukhal, not gurus.” I was careful to stress the KHAL sound in gurukhal and the OO sound in gurus. Naturally, this made me look an even bigger tool than him and totally negated my entire half of the previous conversation. But it was better than sticking a broken Brown Ale bottle in his face, which is what I actually wanted to do.
© Copyright Michael Grimes 2013