John Stuart Mill learned Greek and Latin at a very young age. In his Autobiography, he recounted his reading in Greek: “I had read, under my father’s tuition, a number of Greek prose authors, among whom I remember the whole of Herodotus, and of Xenophon’s Cyropaedia and Memorials of Socrates; some of the lives of the philosophers by Diogenes Laertius; part of Lucian, and Isocrates’ ad Demonicum and ad Nicoclem. I also read, in 1813, the first six dialogues (in the common arrangement) of Plato, from the Euthyphron to the Theaetetus inclusive: which last dialogue, I venture to think, would have been better omitted, as it was totally impossible I should understand it.” (Mr. Mill was seven years old at the time.)
During World War I, opera singer Ernestine Schumann-Heink was requested to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” for the American troops. Because she was so eager to help, she agreed, although she did not know the words. (She sang the tune, rather than the words, of the song.) Later, she read this comment in a newspaper article: “The voice of Schumann-Heink is a great inspiration when she sings ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ but we would be very obliged if she would tell us in what language she sings it.” (Quickly thereafter, she learned the words.)
British journalist Henry Porter wrote a weekly column in the Sunday Times. In May of 1986, he announced in a column that he had deliberately made five grammatical mistakes, and he offered a bottle of champagne to anyone who could point out those mistakes. The following Sunday, Mr. Porter wrote in his column that no one had identified the five errors that he had made intentionally, but that the numerous letters he had received had identified 23 errors that he had made unintentionally!
At the age of twenty-four, Michelangelo Buonarroti sculpted the masterpiece known as the Pietà, which depicts the dead body of Jesus held in his mother Mary’s arms. People did not believe that a twenty-four-old man could have carved such a masterpiece, so Michelangelo carved into Mary’s sash these words: “Michel Angelus Bonarotus Florent Faciebat.” The Latin means, “Michelangelo Buonarroti of Florence made it.” This is the only artwork signed by Michelangelo.
Conductor Arturo Toscanini was having difficulty — musically and linguistically — with a star tenor in a Swedish opera house, and finally he asked a friend who spoke Swedish, “Ask that man if he knows who I am, and tell him to get the hell off the stage.” The tenor listened to the two requests, then replied, “Yes and no.” After hearing the translation of the tenor’s reply, Mr. Toscanini laughed and went on with the rehearsal.
Eddie Cantor and Georgie Jessel performed an act together in vaudeville. In one town, Mr. Jessel noticed that the billing read, “Eddie Cantor with Georgie Jessel.” This upset him, and he complained to their manager, Irving Mansfield, “What kind of conjunction is that? Eddie Cantor with Georgie Jessel?” Mr. Irving promised to fix the wording, and the next day the billing read, “Eddie Cantor but Georgie Jessel.”
Opera singer Grace Moore often answered her own telephone; however, being a celebrity, she disguised her voice with a French accent until she learned who the caller was. Sometimes, she was unable to identify important callers and so would not speak to them. Discovering the truth later, they were not amused at the precaution she had taken to preserve her privacy.
Early in his career, E.B. White wrote a short story about a man seeing his wife’s body in a morgue, then submitted it to the newspaper where he worked: the Seattle Times. The editor’s response made him quit his job — the editor wanted him to change “My God! It’s her!” to the grammatically correct but unrealistic “My God! It is she!”
A teacher wanted a student to learn how to pronounce the “j” sound that can be heard in words such as “giant.” Therefore, he stood on a desk and told the student, “You are a little person, and I am a great big ….” As requested, the very young student finished the sentence for the teacher: “JERK.”
Early in his career, Russian bass Feodor Chaliapine once knew an Italian ballerina named Tornaghi who danced in his country but was homesick for Italy. To comfort her, he used to say all the Italian words he knew at that time: Allegro andante religioso moderato.” (Later, he married her.)
Some people have excellent memories. During a trip, Francis Edgeworth, a Fellow of All Souls College Cambridge, passed the time by trying to remember Homer’s Iliad. He did very well, remembering about half of the epic poem — not in an English translation, but in ancient Greek!
After ballerina Marie Taglioni became pregnant after her marriage, she tried to keep her pregnancy secret by telling other dancers that she had a sore knee. The lie didn’t work. The dancers even began to use the term “mal au genou” as a synonym for being pregnant.
Following the Russian Revolution, Marc Chagall started the Free Academy for artists. Students at the school frequently stated this slogan: “God grant that everyone may chagalle like Marc Chagall.” The Russian word chagalle is translated as “march forward.”)
As a cartoonist, Matt Groening, creator of Life in Hell, The Simpsons, and Futurama, is subversive. He says that his work has an underlying message: “The authorities don’t always have your best interests in mind. No matter what they say.”
Jerome Kern was working with an actress who had the annoying habit of rolling her r’s. She asked, “You want me to crrrross the stage. How can I get acrrrross?” Mr. Kern replied, “Why don’t you roll on your r’s?”
“People will be rewarded for what they say; they will be rewarded by how they speak. What you say can mean life or death. Those who speak with care will be rewarded.” — Proverbs 18:20-21.
Learning phonics has its advantages. An elementary schoolchild in Springfield, Oregon, once told his teacher: “There’s a dirty word on the bathroom wall. I know. I sounded it out.”
“Remember — a developer is someone who wants to build a house in the woods. An environmentalist is someone who already owns a house in the woods.” — Dennis Miller, The Rants.
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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