• Comic playwright and actor Roy Smiles grew up in England while the TV show Porridgewas appearing in 1974-1977. Porridgewas set in a prison, so you would expect it to have swear words. However, because of the time it appeared on TV, it could not use real swear words, so the writers invented their own swear words. For example, an actor would say “naff off” instead of “f*ck off” and “nerk” instead of “Berkshire Hunt” (“Berkshire Hunt” is an example of rhyming slang — the phrase rhymes with the word that is meant. You can guess the word). Young Ron and his classmates learned the fake swear words from the TV show, and they used them at school. Because the swear words were fake swear words, no one at the school stopped them from using them. The adult Roy Smiles remembers this and says, “Absolutely bloody marvelous!” By the way, Mr. Smiles admires the old-time English comic Tommy Trinder, who was a master at putting down hecklers. For example, on stage, Mr. Trinder said, “Trinder’s the name; there’ll never be another.” Orson Welles, who disliked Mr. Trindler, shouted, “Why don’t you change it then?” Mr. Trindler replied, “Is that a proposal of marriage?” Here’s another example of Mr. Trindler’s wit. Another comedian, Max Miller, believed that Mr. Trindler was stealing his style and his jokes. Seeing Mr. Trindler in the audience of one of his shows, Mr. Miller asked him, “Are you getting all this down?” Mr. Trindler replied, “Could you speak a little slower?” Also by the way, Mr. Smiles admires this quip by Beatle John Lennon: When an interviewer asked Mr. Lennon whether Ringo Starr was the best drummer in the world, Mr. Lennon replied, “He’s not even the best drummer in the Beatles.”
• Chico Marx sometimes asked his daughter, Maxine, to speak French in front of French visitors because she had studied French for years with private teachers. Charles Boyer complimented her accent, and Chico said, “She better have a good accent. It cost me $20,000.” Maxine met someone through a practical joke. She and some girlfriends were thinking of someone to prank-call. One girlfriend worked as a teller in bank, and she had Maxine call a bank customer and pretend to be from France and to have met him as a party. She called him, faked a French accent, and pretended to know him. He asked her to meet him for dinner, she accepted, and all during dinner she kept up the fake French accent. She discovered that she liked him — a lot — and at the end of the dinner, she said in her fake French accent that she had something to tell him. Then, in her regular American voice, she said, “I really don’t have to talk like that at all.” Fortunately, he laughed. Later, they got married.
• Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize winner in Economics in 2008 and former professor at Princeton, is a good writer both in his New York Timescolumn and in his New York Timesblog. I have read some of his books for the general public and enjoyed them, but I am not educated enough in economics to understand his industrial-strength economics papers. He moderated his New York Timesblog and so occasionally reminded commenters of some rules of civility in commenting, such as this one: “Obscenity will get your comment deleted; I suspect that a fair number of commenters don’t even realize they’re doing it, because that’s the way many of us #$%^! talk these days. But think about it, and don’t waste your time or mine.” He also wanted a certain amount of accuracy in choice of words. For example, he writes, “Get your insults right. There is, I believe, a fair bit of evidence against the hypothesis that I’m stupid. What you mean to say is that I’m evil.”
• Leonard Bernstein and his family spoke a language that he helped to create with a childhood friend named Eddie Ryback. They named the language with an amalgamation of their names: Ryback plus Bernstein equals Rybernian. Nina, Mr. Bernstein’s daughter, explains, “It’s basically a way of mispronouncing things — Yiddish words as well as people who just talk funny.” A London Timesarticle explains that “I love you” becomes “Mu-la-du,” and the appropriate response is “Mu-la-dumus” (“I love you more”). Sometimes, Mr. Bernstein would put on what his children considered to be airs, and they would tell him in Rybernian, “La-lutt” (“Shut up”). Nina says, “[T]hat would bring him right down to earth.”
• A fun activity is to give famous proverbs a twist. Begin the famous proverb in the usual way, but then give it a different ending. Some elementary-school teachers even give very young students (who don’t already know the famous sayings) the beginnings of famous proverbs and have them complete the sayings. Some results: 1) Don’t bite the hand that looks dirty. 2) Better to be safe than punch a 5th-grader. 3) You can’t teach an old dog new math. 4) If you lie down with dogs, you’ll stink in the morning. 5) It’s always darkest before daylight savings time. 6) Children should be seen and not spanked or grounded. 7) Where there’s smoke, there’s pollution.
• Jerry Orbach and his wife once attended a birthday party for Richard Burton. As a gift, they bought him a kaleidoscope. At the time, he was having an affair with a young actress named Susan Strasberg, with whom he was appearing in the play Time Remembered. A half-dozen women surrounded Susan and berated her for having the affair. Mr. Burton entered the room, the women grew quiet, and Mr. Burton thanked the Orbachs for their gift in a monologue with his wonderful lifting Welsh accent, mesmerizing the half-dozen women who had been berating Susan. After he left the room, Susan said to the mesmerized women, “And that’s just the talk.”
• With the heavily accented Georg Solti as conductor, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra recorded Benjamin Britton’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. Maestro Solti was supposed to later record the narration in several languages: English, French, German, and Italian. However, one day he announced to the orchestra that the recording would not appear for sale. Why? He joked, “No one can understand me in any language!”
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