Sunday, September 13, 2009

Professor Slavitsky's English Lesson

Warning: This story makes many references to the "F-word." Although I will make this as family-friendly as possible, some might be offended.

While I learned Czech at the Defense Language Institute, one of our teachers was a linguistics professor in (at the time) Czechoslovakia, Dr. Slavitsky.

One day, Dr. Slavitsky came into class and announced to us: "I just watched 'Eddie Murphy: Raw' and I have a number of questions about this word F***. He uses it as a noun, a verb, an adjective, and adverb, an exclamation and in many other ways I simply do not understand. Will you please explain this 'f***' to me?" He held up the video as he said this.

Of course, being rough and tough young soldiers, all of us in the class were well-versed in the use of the F-word. Because all of us were from different parts of the country, we also had knowledge of the unique way the f-word is used in different parts of the US. It was natural for us to be able to fully explain to Dr. Slavitsky the proper (or, more appropriately, improper) use of it in colloquial speech.

Also, most of us having seen "Eddie Murphy: Raw" we knew what the good doctor was referring to when he mentioned the different parts of speech in which the f-word was used. Being rather current and fresh in our minds, we were more than able to discuss this as an intellectual pursuit.

Each of us, in turn, went to the chalk board and wrote down a sentence or two using the f-word which we either remembered from the video or from our own vast experience using the word. We would go over our sentence, explaining in detail what the sentence meant, and answer any questions Dr. Slavitsky might have. Of course, each question led to a different sentence, which led to more explanation, which led to even more instances of the f-word being written on the board.

Over the course of the hour, as we talked, Dr. Slavitsky took copious notes in the composition notebook he always carried. He wrote furiously, diagramming sentences and making arrows and underlining things he wrote as we emphasized certain points of "grammar." All in all I think he learned more English slang that day than a normal student of American English might learn in a month. He took it all in, occasionally looking up and saying, "Yes, yes, go on."

At the end of the hour, he thanked us for helping him better understand the f-word and left us to our next teacher. Our next teacher just happened to be our homeroom teacher, Mrs. Lang.

Mrs. Lang was a wonderful lady, who I describe as being "grandmotherly." Indeed, she was old enough to be a grandmother to most of us in the class. She was a proper lady who came from a family of means (at least they were of means before the Communists took over after World War II).

We came into class and sat at our desks, never thinking about the verbal carnage we'd left on the chalk board during the previous hour. Nor had any of us erased what was there. I don't think we did this deliberately, I think we just didn't think about it.

Mrs. Lang came into the class a few minutes late. As she turned toward the front of the class from closing the door, her eyes fell upon the, perhaps, hundreds of sentences on the chalk board - each containing one form of the f-word or another. I distinctly remember the color draining from her face and the audible gasp she made as she read some of the filth we'd managed to conjure up.

In a very un-grandmotherly fashion, she sprinted across the room, lunged over the desk and managed to grab the eraser from the chalk board's ledge and erase a good portion of the board before she almost toppled over the desk head first. She managed to complete her lunge over the desk, plant both her feet in front of the board and continue erasing in almost one motion. She spoke with each stroke of the eraser, in much the same fashion as one might speak to a child with each swing during a spanking: "I ... don't ... know ... what ... Professor ... Slavitsky ... was ... thinking ... having ... you ... talk ... about ... such ... filth ... instead of ... training ... your ... lesson ... from ... the ... book!"

After the board was erased, Mrs. Lang took a deep breath and composed herself again. She picked up her book and started the lesson as if nothing had happened. Flappable, but only for a short time.


  1. And now I have to wonder...was Dr. Slavitsky really curious about the F word, or were you all unwitting participants in his prank on Mrs. Lang? :-D

  2. Good one, Michelle! LOL That would make the incident even funnier.

    As I remember Dr. Slavitky, he likely wouldn't have played such a joke, as he was rather academically-minded. But - there were a couple other instructors there I'm sure would have been in on such a joke had they thought of it!