The Master Moaners of SurreyIt begins again, the early mornings, the late nights, the feeling that the task you have chosen for yourself is similar to kicking the dead bodies of the cast of "die Meistersingers" over the Brenner pass. Topped off by a week in the former DDR talking pidgin "German" to a group of Olympic standard complaining spinsters from Godalming. I've been learning German for two years now. I've passed all the exams with flapping colours. Can't speak a word. I can't even manage restaurant German. I'm still not certain until it arrives which animal it's from (it's always meat, unless it's Apfelstrudel) or what shape it's supposed to be.
Of course it's true that languages evolve. Nobody sits down and designs them. But sometimes, when you're a student of one that's not your own, paranoia can get the better of you. For example, the use of prepositions in German. It got in that appalling state just by accident, no evil intelligence was at work, I'm absolutely certain (well, nearly). But as I struggle with it, I can't help feeling the designing hand of a woman in a black PVC cat-suit who gets cressy at the thought of foreigners having to spend hours and hours learning these two, three and four-letter instruments of pure torture, still not getting it right. "That's because I don't want you to get it right," she cackles "I want you to be punished" (swish, thwack, howl).
In English there are of course quite a few bits of the language that even people who've been doing it all their life can't quite get the hang of - split infinitives (how come that an entire nation across the water can survive perfectly well without thinking this is a crime?), certain useless remnants of the accusative (twit- Who! twit-Whom! a dreary note), less/fewer, discrete/discreet, discomfit/discomfort and on and on. I tend to leave all these grammatical equivalents of the scrotum weight in the dimly lit dungeon where they belong (first Sunday of every month, after Songs of Praise finishes - no entry without a studded, leather- bound copy of Fowler's English Usage) but lampooning and lambasting the poor unfortunates that fall into these linguistic mantraps seems to be the only fun that some people ever get (these aren't the same mewling spinsters who... no, no, that way madness lies).
I sometimes wonder, is the evident pleasure they derive from pedantry really the result of pent-up sexual, or perhaps violent desires? Are they on diets and desperate for something to do to keep their mind off cream cakes? Is it that or kick the dog? Or is the highlighting of solecisms the only thing that really gets the blood beating in their ears? Maybe this is the really insurmountable barrier which prevents me from becoming middle class - I would rather have a jump than gleefully write '(sic)' next to the howler of my enemy. And of course I can't be working class because I would rather, yes, sleep with a woman! than beat the shite out of somebody outside a chip shop. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the English. Ah yes! That's why I want to learn a foreign language.