Doggerel

My colleague (the professor said)
Is most remarkably well read
And of her learning justly proud,
But not, alas, well read aloud.
Her Dante and her Goethe both
She knows — but knows as “Dante” and “Goethe,”
And eyebrows rise at cocktail parties
When she drops the name “Descartes.”
She knows her Nietzsche well, and yet she
Always used to call him “Nietzsche.”
(Having learned that wasn’t right she
Changed, and now she calls him “Nietzsche.”)
I could go on. I might portray
The way she mangles poor “Sartre”;
And others of like magnitude,
From “Euripides” to Sigmund “Freud,”
Make apt examples of her gift,
But — well, I think you get my drift.
However, just as people say,
A broken clock’s right twice a day.
Though names she doesn’t botch are few, one
She gets right is Byron’s Juan.

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2 Comments

Filed under Language, Oddities, Poetry

2 responses to “Doggerel

  1. Beautiful! Your colleague must have relatives everywhere.

    In Texas, we don’t worry about mispronouncing European names because we don’t ever have occasion to talk about such people.

    I think I would rather have a goofy enthusiast mangle some names than the only likely alternative, which seems to be blinking indifference to the whole edifice of western civilization. Kenneth Clark once said, about the works of genius in western art, “There they are. You can’t dismiss them.” It’s just as well he did not live any longer than he did.

  2. Mangled pronunciations are the sign of an autodidact — a cultured person who moves in uncultured circles; they know the names from books but have never heard them used in conversation. When even professors mangle what ought to be household names (and the “Dante” and “Descartes” in the poem were in fact taken from real professors I’ve encountered), that surely doesn’t say anything good about the state of modern culture. For the name-mangler as an individual, though, such mispronunciations are almost a badge of honor, the mark of someone striving to rise above his surroundings.

    (Full disclosure: I myself pronounced Leibniz as “Leeb-nitz” for many years, discovering my error only when my sister pronounced the name correctly and I tried to “correct” her.)

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